AN EYE IN THE SKY
By The Same Author
THE OUTER LAND AND OTHER POEMS
A TEARLESS GLASS
MR. ELIOT AMONG THE NIGHTINGALES
A PRIMER OF AESTHETICS
IN THE SKY
THE DIAL PRESS, NEW YORK
LIBRARY OF CONGRESS CATALOG NO. 60-9240
COPYRIGHT 1960 BY LOUIS GRUDIN
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
MANUFACTURED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
LIMITED FIRST EDITION
Digitized by the Internet Archive
in 2012 with funding from
LYRASIS Members and Sloan Foundation
1. THE WAY IT WENT 11
2. CALLING AND FALLING 12
3. QUIETLY CLOSE THE DOOR 14
4. MYRTLE WAS CUTE 16
5. A TOUCH OF FAME 17
6. SERE AND MELLOW 18
1. TO COME THROUGH 21
2. HOME IN THE RAIN 24
3. MAGPIES IN THE SKY 27
4. BEGGARS AROUND 30
5. ANOTHER BEGGAR 33
1. DISASTER'S KISS 35
2. A MARKET REPORT 36
3. MAN WANTED 42
4. A QUIET SORT OF GUY 43
A Long Story
1. THEIR WORTH APPEARS 47
2. HER BOY 49
3. COURAGE SO
4. BEFORE YOUR TIME 52
5. HEAVEN TREMBLED 54
6. EYE TROUBLE 57
7. SUNDAY MORNING BELL 59
8. ASPECTS OF MOE 64
9. A FLEDGELING STATE 68
10. PLAIN AS DAY: A WESTERN 71
11. A SHORT SLEEP 73
12. THEIR OWN KIND 77
13. A PAST OFFENDER 78
Five Foot Four
1. ME AND HERBIE (SAMPLES) 87
2. THE LOST WORD 90
3. FIVE FOOT FOUR 91
4. JAMUS DIED 94
5. ARTHRITIS 98
1. MAXWELL MAMSER: DOWN HE WENT 102
2. MYRTLE, A MOURNER 106
3. BILL HALL, IN THE THIRTIES 108
4. MR. HINK 108
5. MENDEL 109
To Come To Light
1. WHAT IF SO? 115
2. FROM THE POTENTARIA 116
3. IF I COULD 119
4. A WORLDLY MAN 123
5. A SILLY QUESTION 124
6. YOUR CALLING 126
7. VULNERABLE 127
8. A CHANGE OF SELF 128
9. AN OLD HAND 129
In The Wrong
1. WILLIAM RUNE 131
2. GULL'S GALLERY 133
3. ANDY CARL 136
4. EMANUEL LUSCH 137
5. HYMAN ELIOT 139
1. HELLO, ED 141
2. IN THE ACT 146
3. DANNY DOES IT 150
4. A DARKIE AT HEART 152
Out And Around
1. A NEW MAN 156
2. ANOTHER CHANCE 157
3. SURPRISE 159
4. OUT AND AROUND 161
1. The Way It Went
The farewells were hardest of all. It was as they were leav-
ing, as they were running off, that you heard the tolling,
the Isthmus bells. They rushed away, right in the middle
of everything. How come they were gone, and the party
They went and we were spent, and now it all rhymes, as if
that's the way it was meant to be, with the high rent and
all. For they were so impressed with the place, the lofty
living room, bedroom and shower, and the view. I have lost
the key to the irony of it, how it came off and the way it
went. Extraordinary! strangers all, and all here in our
house, and through it all a sense of doom, a sense of war.
Here too, as everywhere, war.
For my lifetime was wartime
and all were avenged,
for what, we did not know, for some faraway reasons.
The youth of the land came down like the wolf
and swarmed through our smart apartment.
What could we do,
what did we know, and who cares
who and what they were, their names,
their monthly incomes, the things they said,
and what they did to one another?
What if they did come and go,
what is it to you and me, to us two,
who waited and greeted them
and stood dumbfounded as they fled?
2. Calling and Falling
She had a wily, sidelong way, and gave you a quick look.
She was a very catty, very tommy-like thing, a skinny
tammaninny, and I hated her, I didn't like her.
I had been mean to her, and nice to her, and either way
was wrong ; for she was offensive in every sense, and didn't
know how to write, no she didn't, she hadn't the slightest.
She was sustained by a few words, they were hers and they
were there, a sort of place, a room of her own.
And even on a cold day,
or a very dark day or night,
she might curl up in a corner,
and diddle out and doodle out
a noodle, a riddling, piddling little
wiggle waggle, a sigma phrigma hie;
a fiddle faddy saddy on a pony,
a P e ggy> f °ggy> pitty, fuggy iddle
That was the kind of thing she was as she wrinkled her eye
and winked at you; she had a bony, phony face and an
appealing way; and the mystery of it, where she got those
pretty creatures, those lovely boys she appeared with sud-
denly at a cocktail party, with her telltale heart, or was it
only for appearances? Yes, she had a way of appearing.
And here it is daylight again
and I am back in the wrong,
just when things were almost coming out right,
just when they were coming into sight
and one or two things showed up, here and there,
though I couldn't make them out,
and you see how hopelessly,
"from dawn to noon,"
I fall, and fall.
And this is not the way,
and Leo is way off course,
out of touch, no good at all,
utterly and sincerely
of no account at all,
and not very truly,
for he was the last, and a baron,
and had no issue of his tissue,
but on the field of honor.
A matter of integrity,
of following his calling,
of calling and falling,
and fouling up the lines as he fell.
And that other hail fellow, what's his name,
he was another of the same,
for, after all that had befallen
in twenty years and more,
when I called him up, all he could say was:
"What do you want?" and wasn't that
an ugly thing to say to me?
It was my idea to go into those insults and hostile acts,
either to avenge myself on them all, or for the beauty of it;
or as a way of life: in Who's Who and all that, with a
patch over one eye; in the football season, reeling and
cheering. With a hiccough and a stirrup cup, with the foxy
noxy poxy set he ran with, with their horns and scarlet
breeches. I might make something of it, if even by a mere
review of the various ways he had been rebuffed and sur-
prised in war and in love.
When all were crying peace, peace,
and likewise love, love,
And the nameless, the cats and dogs,
the unwashed and the unlovely,
every damn fool was saying love, love.
I thought it a good notion to go into that and see how each
of those blows fell. I thought of it, too, as a device for a
story, for the glory and the money in it.
It might succeed, and then again it might be a tassled tisket
and tasket sort of thing, and dangle like T. S. El, 'twixt
heaven and hell, with a red nose and eyes sincere in sorrow,
such a bore from beginning to end, so why bother?
3. Quietly Close The Door
Myrtle, the paleface, sat on our deep green couch
and curdled up in it, with her sour smile.
In that whispery voice,
"Moe," she breathed, "have you been here long?"
and her eyes ran a quick flick
around your living room in the sky.
You smile back, and silently you mutter:
"As if you didn't know!"
What is she dragging around in her voice? What is the
burden of her sound as she moves around, as she comes
around to tantalize you, because you haven't got the nerve
to tell her off and turn her out, to say: "Look here, Myrt,
don't give me that voice, which you use on the boys; and
what kind of a party is this anyway, what's going on, do you
belong to a Party? Art is true and we're wise to you, so on
your way! (For one who has always been out and about,
and all alone in the world, for such a one to turn you out
in turn, is really something, my friend) so off you go!"
And look who's turning somebody out, turning a soul from
your door, look who has forgotten who slammed the door,
you man with a door to slam, and for how long?
Just long enough to jot down another memo: Memo to you,
to swing wide the door and rush out into the snowy night
and shout into the night:
"Come back, come back through my door,
why, oh why, oh,
heigho, I never did such a thing!"
To tell the truth, it was they who ran off
after a very brief call,
it was they who wouldn't stay
and skipped to another party down the street
and left us flat
in our soho quiet little coldwater flat,
within our four walls, on the floor in our shift,
with our cold feet on the bare floor,
sitting and crying.
And so there is just enough time to jot it down and catch
a train, for you know what's going on: the rumors flying
about the spacemen selling space, and about you.
Close the door gently, and don't you, for one, don't you, of
all people, go slamming doors, and slamming doors on
people, and showing them out, and don't you for one go
slamming them out, for you haven't paid, and you know
what's very likely to happen.
The lease is running out on Liberty Street, and soon you'll
be a free man again, in the open, out and around, so quietly
close the door.
4. Myrtle Was Cute
The yellow light was over all in that great apartment. Flora
and I were there, and Myrtle was there, and her friends
were there. As for myself, I surely wasn't much on that
occasion, and all very interesting really, if you just didn't
start any trouble j really, how far could you go in a show-
down, what would you do, and what did you want?
Myrtle was cute: her little frame hunched in a deep chair,
her bloodless face inert and blind, with a wicked twist to
her lip, as she feebly joined in applause, clapping her weary,
As for you, you should carry a big sign: FAKE! You should
go to your East River studio and letter that word yourself
in your own inimitable script, with a brush dipped in solid
gold india ink, and autograph it in your golden hand.
Get yourself a pair of high stilts
like those sandwich men; put on a disguise
and go and dare, and stick your neck out,
lay your head on a pillory, like a Puritan father,
hang your head in a stock, and sleep it off
in the public square, a man of the world,
a guttermutter, a highwayman, in the public eye,
and mud in your eye, as they say at a party.
Do you know you're quite a guy,
an unpleasant fellow, a louse in fact.
And why are you like that,
must you, do you have to? who's to blame?
a dirty shame,
and your hand has gone lame,
have another scotch !
5. A Touch Of Fame
How odd for that man at the party, with the glitter in his
eye, to come up and aver that you were a born writer, and
smile when he called you that. And now he knew you for
the man you were, for your nerve and blood and steel, and
the indefinable something, je ne sais, genius?
So wot, so you was famous Amos,
gentle Will of even,
by the thyme of syne,
and iggle a mickle in it
for you or pour moi,
pas de toot, and a pain in me eye.
And what is fame, if you ask me,
for once upon a tyme
I had me youth and me health
and a touch of femme
And you know what?
when the clippings come in, if they do,
they're not about you.
What do you want, a brass band and ticker tape and City
Hall? What for? you couldn't take it! Look at Mackhacky,
poor old wacky Max, he had it, he sure got it, and look
where he is now.
And what do you see but the same old rat in the automat,
those hoods a generation later, coming around for anec-
dotes and taking notes of your answers.
6. Sere and Mellow
And now I can't recall a single one of all that multitude of
flurries and frenzies, that snowfall of ideas.
All that: (the tumbling years without end) it seems it's
over, and worse than ever, if you ask me.
And it is as if by a recovery from a nearly fatal illness that
you can give a sigh like that, and let it go, and now for the
first time it is easy and right, to have come and gone with
the others, with the turn of the century, in a time gone by,
before your time.
At the party a pretty girl
admired his voice:
"A sweet briar patch in a breeze,"
"a taste of wild honey,"
"a brooding, waking sound."
And the poor old dear was struck dumb,
it was his voice she praised,
and he nearly fell over with surprise.
A sunburst, the wine-like thought:
why not? all those years in the dark,
unloved, and all along you had a voice
that was music to a girl,
like singing bees, wild honey, Iokanan.
A joke! wasn't it funny, to be whole again,
honey, to be loved, and for your own sake,
and this was how it would be to be loved,
to be enjoyed, to be known and wanted
by one who was lovable and young
and of the opposite sex,
smiling into your eyes
and opposing you with a smile.
Your thoughts were your own,
but your voice was hers, and sudden song.
This thing, you see, was a surprise,
it came up at high tide under the full moon
(it's a long story)
and all this was only a bit part
in a long way around to the truth,
which was old and out of character
and such nonsense!
For he's a jolly good fellow,
sere and mellow,
with a blast and a bellow
and down the hatch.
Her hair was braided, like the loaves in sabbath light. When
she cut off her heavy honey braids that came way down to
here, she was afraid to come home without her braids.
They would have their anniversary in a little downstairs
Italian joint, with a checkered cloth and wine, and a gypsy
violinist, after a violent and stormy life and glamorous
With enough to retire,
with what it would require,
provided it all came true
by a winning number,
a ticket around the world,
just for two.
Funny how all of a sudden
nicht mir, nicht dir, it was old age.
What a shame! as a child
he worried about the future,
he was brought up to be provident,
always beside himself
with self respect and anxiety j
so as a boy he behaved like a man
and as a man his heart grew fonder ;
and now he's way out yonder in the dead past,
the silly old thing, and a good thing it's over ;
and nuts to him and his kind!
nuts and wild honey, and nothing but brambles
in the wilderness of the past.
Way out yonder,
like the Eskimo who walks away
to lay his lamenting bones
on the bitter crust of the sea,
to return and partake of the world
by dispersal, by becoming a multitude,
each part going its own way,
to travel and mingle with the world.
1 . To Come Through
In the underworld you rock and roar
in the vein of the blue-black
fundamental bottom, the basic coaliness
of the inside of the world,
and as you thunder through
and as the doors slam in a double beat,
as your giant iron worm
leaps again, tunnels into the black,
your bright lit shuttle flying that thread of space,
you strain for a sign,
a number like a shot of shell,
a spark with just that curl to its tail,
to tell you where you are, and on what line,
good lord, what right wrong line,
headed straight for hell,
for the outer county flats, the dead end plain
and the end of the line.
Get off at the next stop and change, and cross over
and go into reverse and hurl yourself back,
like Lucifer, like the Malhemoviss, fly like a bat,
fly blackface on your back
To your couch at home or your office desk,
or your rocker on the hill
where you will turn up and end up
on your back after all.
After taking sides, and riding about for so long,
and resting, and wearying your soul
with logic and things like that.
Catching sight of a passing world,
a sand blew in your eye.
A glimpse of the fact, of my condition
of being in a train going back where I wanted to go,
willynilly where the train was taking me,
where I bought a token and paid my fare
to go and know, to guess the name on the pillar,
in mosaic on the porcelain wall,
in this land of my fathers:
characters odd and even, the R backwards,
blurred figures of I know not what,
signifying heaven knows.
To a kitchen in a tenement,
a two family brick dwelling
on a desert street
in the Bronx where I was born
in a song, in a tune of long ago,
with a tear in the eye from the wind,
rigid with the cold
and what fluttered through my mind,
a desolation, a far beyond tears,
a skeletal dryness.
"Poor Moe is so distracted," a friend once said,
with that unfeeling laugh of health and charity.
You heard that laugh once from your angel,
another's laugh, not hers,
a sweet and cruel convulsion
of a hard creature of good fortune,
that could laugh at whose expense,
a costly laugh,
in safety, across the bar
what's going on
out there, down town, all heading for the rocks,
getting on toward noontime, and I'll be late.
Actually the axe had fallen, the news was out,
Myrtle was coming down the stair
in her charm school make-up,
high heels clicking on the mirror stair,
wha hae with Barron's in marble hall
and panelled wall!
in my mind's eye I saw it all.
Let it, let the worst as it will,
what matter that he, that I,
that each and every one, and himself
were thrown in and thrown to all that.
Though he couldn't bear it,
he would not look;
let it, if it must, if so.
And a tight feeling settled in him,
a taste of all that would come.
For he had struck a bargain
and sold out, in a way,
and that were all right,
but a hard bargain and a bitter bargain
were no bargain.
Hang on to what you have,
to that little or nothing
which is the point of it all,
a mere point and the clue to it all,
cling while you may
to this prayer-like morning duty
daily round your beat,
and so beat the rap,
and see what it was all about,
and how these things were managed
by heroes and martyrs and other poor sobbers
and creatures of the past.
And how come, and what you were at,
and make something of it,
and in a way, conceive and father it all,
and so give an account of yourself,
and make your answer.
In the third person, visibly mark
which way the wind blew, and where gone,
blown to bits of signs and relics
and odds and ends.
2. Home In The Rain
The blows and burdens of these days,
and the monster past,
the New Year party,
the letter announcing:
the axe had fallen.
Carry him off the field.
He was kicked by the flying red horse,
the fiery snorter
with the eagle wings, the clacking hoofs,
and a horse laugh, a neigh hey hey
for the life of letters!
He had been through the wringer,
and he used to linger about,
he was a dead ringer for his old self,
and here he was, on the shelf,
dangling like a loose knot.
Lost his job, and came home in the rain.
With a trace
of the old ace in him yet,
a stubborn alter falter, me,
me, your old unkatunk.
Yes me, dear me 5 so wake up, please,
wake up and look at me, the way you used to,
and be your old self again,
sitting in the noonday,
singing the same old
happy, tappy tunes.
Such a stubborn, such a croony old,
groany old crumb, Pm going to stay
right here, all alone and all by myself,
I dont' care,
though it take all day and all night,
here I'll last it out and see it through,
though maybe not so bright,
and transparently false, and patently lying,
and so obscure, so incurably obscure.
And no ending on the last page,
the mystery is not solved.
I couldn't reach the shelf for a book,
or take time out
to lurch around in all that gandering,
taking notes, with a wince
at the pinch of the past.
Not an inch of it can I go,
and so I meander around like that man,
and remain, very truly, in the wrong.
Sounding along, and making music ;
a dip into song and you'll find me,
you'll come over, you will, won't you,
you'll come and see me some time.
In the long run maybe, if I did it,
I would be content j
for what I was about they had all been about,
and that would be my answer.
My word to Teevee, the new Eve,
pandering to necessity, the total need
of a cozy corner,
a retreat, where to retreat?
And how had I ever heard or seen
past that dazzle and din,
and reached the fellow regions
of the truth
of me and you and us all,
of the departed,
a spectral sight, in the absence of light,
and in the third person, in the past tense,
and over, and nothing to be afraid of!
And I'm still around, and still looking,
and I'll tell you what I see.
In my ward, on my beat,
I cover the front from sea to sea,
and never meet a solitary man,
nor ever know
a human fellow creature washed ashore,
ever an earth man
to hang his hat in this air,
to dare this strand and visit me here
in his flying machine,
knowing I am friendless ; and never think
of looking me up in this ever so far.
3. Magpies in The Sky
It has come about
that the sky makes such sounds as these ;
the world has changed, and I am aware
of those things up there.
Every morning I leap into the subway cave,
to my dwarf-life in those ovens underground,
grounded in the lowlife region.
Snuggle down closer, and wriggle in deeper
and worm down darker into your woolly warmth,
and give a great yawn, and hope for the best,
in a dreary sort of rest,
for you are one of the lucky ones,
and in clover.
You can hear them in their craft above,
in their cabins in the sky,
those youngsters, those kids on high,
passing you by overhead,
those lowbrow kids who fly.
You wonder how they dare,
how they go out in the chill,
flying all over the place
and playing with dangerous things.
In their belts and helmets,
airbound around the world,
buoyant, bashful youth, standing guard
over the Presidency, over Heaven,
like sentinel bees.
I run and trip and tumble,
bumble rumble down the subway stairs
to the subworld, to my wilds,
my depths and reaches and inland beaches,
down the dark sky flats, downtown I goes.
How tired I am, nobody knows
how my heart labors to keep on,
how it labors to make that one next beat,
that downbeat, that blow of defiance,
that one at a time, that beat, beat,
and beat the rap by one more beat,
how heavy it pounds and then
smashes its fist in my chest.
How I blow along
down where the train pulls in,
just as I come flying, and crashes shut,
to start again and gnash its way
to the coal-dark, the leaking tunnel,
and leave me there on the shining iron floor,
with the newspaper under my arm.
That's how I get my morning news, with a headache in the
underground by the squeaking lights, the sharp lights that
blind, the painful subway lights in your eyes. In this hard
light you read about your hard lot in the winter world and
of those who are way up there on their round, when you
are snug at home in a parlor shelter, settled down to a life
of ease and disease, with an allergy and the sniffles, wrapped
in woolens, curled into a ball, and doze your days away
No heat in my house, the wind seeps in and creeps in, the
attic windows tremble, the plaster sheds, the clapboards
curl, the nails loosen in the nail holes, the cold whistles
They have a heavenly bearing, they are the tall and glori-
ous, the young, braver than the gods.
The sky is full of magpies, and it is for their sake that you
chatter and groan: for your children in the air, and for their
return, for they must return, for we are surface creatures,
and surface bound.
As you saw me last, in the subway with the morning paper
under my arm, breathing hard, when the train had slammed
its door and pulled away and marched off like a brass band,
a dark and human band, a tramping horde, a torrent, a
sewage of sound.
And yet a mere pulse, a single knot
in that web of hour and day,
through which you might trace me,
if you could tag me with a luminous grain,
as I tracked my way and lived my life through,
in the artificial dark with the stabbing lights
at the turn in a man's life,
the local stations passing like sheet lightning,
as he sits reading his paper and finishes
and folds it back and tucks it under his arm.
Hints and divinations,
darkness was common to them all,
and to his many narrow escapes
from that desolation,
his lucky returns to the surface,
where he found his way home
And holed up for the winter, and covered up
against those homing marauders
in the upper, outer spaces
which were like a mirror image
of the underground,
its darkness reversed into a blue sky
whose bright depths were like that darkness,
like its shining, its bitter mineral cold.
And between the two, back and forth, reading and riding,
from home to office, and making a living of sorts, nothing
much, nothing extraordinary, an average living, enough for
a high rental and the tips, which are deductible. It is com-
ing on toward income tax time and heaven only knows.
4. Beggars Around
On a bitter evening, thrusting on, step by step,
laboring toward the subway, your breath steaming
in the blue space, framed in a sky
of twinkling windows, high and far,
and a threat of snow
As you pushed on,
and fed your heart air, to reach the newsstand
by the gaping hole with the downward stair
and iron hand-rail, to descend
and vanish from the face of the earth
There you met a forbidding figure,
a darkened, a prophetic highwayman,
a masked mystery man,
a leatherhead, rough -jaw dragger
A dogface with gutted eyes, with frayed, edged eyelids
and frost-split lip, an icicle from the nose,
a swollen hand in the pocket ; a blue-toed native,
bent at the knee, with a bareback stoop,
riding the ground, a threadbare side to the north,
and a scarf loose in the freeze.
Well, to him you grunted: "No!"
and sidestepped past him
without looking, and kept going,
for you had to keep going, and it would not do
to ask his pardon, plead for help,
as he muttered: thanks all the same,
and god bless you, and to hell with you,
can't spare a lousy coin for a freezing old
little old me-man.
You wouldn't do it,
you old would-be with a big heart,
and no heart at all in fact,
making a fuss about your heart,
as if you had a bad heart, which you had,
and only an excuse, claiming exemption,
a fake entry in your return,
as if anybody would believe you ;
and wise to you; I know your kind,
a sweet guy, a dreamer,
a father, a king of beasts,
a lion hearted deerslayer,
a fellowman, a nigger lover,
a stoical, right royal fellow,
a sophistical mystical wit,
a funny man.
in this day and age! all frauds!
in the richest city, and you hate to be taken ;
but you felt bad about that one,
gray and silent, tight and close,
with his collar up around his jaw;
and the low voice
conniving with you in a crime,
a crime to give and a crime to take
and be taken in the crime of charity.
And there was the one you took in for the night when you
were a kid reading Dostoievsky, ashamed to be afraid to let
him in to sleep on the floor. And of course the newsman
on my corner, his hungry five o'clock call: "All Late, All
Late!" crowing in the dusk to the homing crowd.
I haven't heard him lately, the rough-hewn little man with
the huge head and slimy eyes glaring up at you as he slid
the folded paper under your arm and palmed your nickel
without a word j a tough old dwarf, his powerful hands
sooty as a bootblack's from the newsprint, buffed to a shine
by the driving wind.
On Christmas eye, in the traffic din, as he stamped the snow
and gave me my paper, all at once in his leather jacket he
looked like my old man.
5. Another Beggar
My troubles are foot troubles,
I've told you about it: can't think on my feet,
never get anywhere
with this pair of bad feet: flat, flat
as the world is flat; can't seem to get around,
and never leave this precinct,
and end up and perish in this here parish.
Closing time, and still here! and nothing done,
and couldn't get away.
And so you'll find him sweltering in town
with everybody else, just like everybody:
for he's only human.
Yes, a human streak ; and fast, I'll say!
boy, was he fast! fast enough,
and not only that, but good,
good and fast
And beat the clock, and beat time,
a time beater, an tgg beater, and the subject
of a famous American painting.
He sat for his portrait,
and stood for election,
and ran all the way home.
Lyman Shyman quit in despair, right in the middle of the
portrait; it upset him to discover that his sitter's socks did
not match: one green and one blue, one shoe on and one
shoe off, and if the shoe fits, you know what he was, and
what we called him.
I wondered how he earned a living, though elderly, though
a touch of acne appeared to discolor his nose, like a sobered
up drunk you know; well, anyway, I hate to repeat this,
how he stopped me on the street ; he was always running
into me, for the corner was his alma mater, a daughter of
the streets, in a way, in a bad way.
On Broadway in the forties, all dressed up like Monsieur in
a temps perdu. Was he cherchezing on that honkytonk
street, that island of ginmills for the sailor boys? What was
he doing there when he popped out of the darkness as
Myrtle and I turned into the wind, hurrying from the
show? Still following me! (as we edged away and walked
on) and hurled that parting insult.
1. Disaster's Kiss
Myrtle had a staff of girls playing tattlegames all day on
their teletypetellersj she could lift a phone and call me and
cut me off. And if she cut me to the quick, in my prime,
it was nothing to her, she didn't mind.
A matter of survival, in a strange country, and I the en-
chanted stranger j fancy meeting me! And so I was facing
the music, and it was playing low, distorted like everything
else, a huckster's dream or concoction for the enemy, the
consumer, to win the war of nerves.
And I could tell you about that: her little pale round face,
the pursed lips and the squint, coming to the point. A mousy
squint, at the luncheon I was paying for.
Our hour is drawing to a close,
and little has been said or done,
we came up with no pearl
from the dark and deep.
We are hardly to be blamed,
and we take no credit if you can see,
eye to eye and word for word, what we were.
Confused about his whereabouts, and lost his voice,
without access to the facts, or redress in law.
For the rules were variable and fallible,
and all those things struck together.
My name is V. I. Peep,
and T. V. is my keep,
and there is no escape:
stone walls are less than air
against these voices.
(I'll have to get out of here! )
Let's face it,
look it straight in the eye:
an eye with a number in the pupil,
an eye in the sky,
in sunshine and clouds and universal space,
it stares you in the face,
and it tells you:
You are fired.
The crack of doom lays bare the past
and you're in it again, back in the dark truth,
once more you know it well :
Distaster's kiss restores the sight.
2. A Market Report
And isn't that the thing to do:
speak up for him?
because, you see, because he was so dumb
and dead from living, from so much living,
and nothing to say for himself,
and wouldn't know how, not a word,
couldn't utter a mutter a nothing
but grab a dish and hurl it into the sink
and smash a fine old porcelain plate
and a cup and saucer,
burst and curst
and struck and stranded,
locked up and barred and disbarred
for having unbecome
and gone and forgotten it all,
and simply speechless.
And to your eternal glory,
you stood up for him.
Will you stand up and say a few words?
just a few words which remind you me of a story $
remind me to tell you
how he went out, lights out,
and a dark and dirty business,
a scream, a laugh your head off,
and tell you what, listen to this,
give the man a chance, let him talk,
give him his head and enough rope
and hang a tale, as if you cared!
And did it have to?
was it really like that,
and could such things?
And why to him, to me of all people,
and why to all people, a plague on all,
every last one of them
stricken the same way,
and stricken from the list and absent,
and re-enlist in the next one
when the next milhomme comes around,
the next war of man versus man,
against and aghast,
a hanging, a public event,
a one man show,
a special for today
for the last mile and a seat on the exchange
and a look at the tickertape:
to see if we are still in business.
And the top of the morning to you, Paddy,
I see you're running the same old elevator,
and you see I'm still on the job.
A word at a time and a year at a time
I lived through it all.
It was the same old story!
and to celebrate, I threw a dish,
smashed a dish in the sink,
in the great crash of '29
when I cracked on the Curb,
broke down in a market report
and descended to this, and sunk so low.
And why, I ask you, why yield?
because there was no yield,
unyielding and fruitless and profitless
is the reason why,
for Barron's was without return,
and no response, and couldn't take it,
couldn't make it,
had a wife and couldn't keep her;
a forgotten and forgiven man,
and out of work.
Complained and reproached her,
bitterly said slow, dull words,
beat out a final word,
and said something, but it was nothing.
Better to be misunderstood
than to tell the truth outright and wrong
and be understood by those
who are never wrong.
And I don't want to talk about it,
disenchanted with narrative,
with the wrong things about the wrong things,
and to what end?
this ambiguity, this fiction,
this disinfection, this airing,
this display of yourself
and the way you behaved!
But you wouldn't dare end it:
empty handed, disengaged,
disbarred off Liberty Street,
back, back to all you had fled.
Stand up for him and defend him,
and stand him, how can you stand him?
he can hardly stand up by himself;
prone to lie down and close his eyes,
and slow to wrath, and slow to answer,
and drive you mad.
What has he done,
what has he been up to and where has he been?
That's what I wanted to tell you about,
what I had in mind all along.
You may think this is the end, you've come to the end of
the trial j and the verdict? the truth now! The champ is
down, he's sprained his writing finger, aches so, at the big
knuckle, and hardly move; it's the mileage of this finger:
imagine a ringless, silent finger making pointed remarks
from a moving point, mile by mile; the condemned man
writing, the writing man dissenting, and making an inven-
tory of whatever entered his mind, and out of his mind; it
passed for wit, but only because he was lit up, a brilliant
He hadda moik a libbing
in the land o'liberty and cotton,
way down south by the river landing,
where Mackie come from,
from the birthplace of jazz;
yeh, I knew him, and outlived him.
And what's all dis about de nouth and de south,
and when there was a war on,
and where were you then?
Why, I was a veteran of the previous war!
Of the waswar of the wahren
for the warheit and freiheit,
and the light of day
Well, and what else?
He didn't tell, he never finished,
for he had expired and up,
up he went to his ward,
where he belonged, where he laid him down,
where he settled down,
and what more could he say,
an idle question of an idle man.
So it seems to me that's about enough from you; we have
enough to put up with, so put up or shut up and keep quiet.
And maybe then we'll let you off, for Friday is payday and
the payoff, and we'll figure you up and pay you off, and
you'll be let out and let down, and at liberty; and you'll
never have to go back!
Thirty years on the same street, and not even a gold watch
to show for it, nothing to hock, and no memories, nothing
fond, and no parting words, just let out, let down and out,
and out at heel, and a button loose.
They laid you off, did they? Tell us about it, won't you,
and make it brief if you can.
I had a way to beat the rap, first chance I got. I had a
system. I could lift the lid right off that block of stone,
aluminum and solid glass; and the clerks would look up to
see what was coming off up there.
And I would be leaning over,
brimming with good humor
and a promise of better days,
and vacation with pay; one big vacuation,
all at once! the whole building
quiet, all out for lunch,
for a have a nice week end.
I would marshall them with an arm band,
a black band, for fire drill and discipline
to keep them in line for one at a time
from all the exits, out with all of them
to join me and strike up the band
for the light of day,
for doing nothing in the daytime
for the fundamental process
of coming out on top
and for you all, and for one and all,
and all for one: (me).
3. Man Wanted
So he stood in line
with his sample kit and his pitch,
and his fright when the cue was almost due,
when about to be introduced by name,
and when about to be questioned.
Submitted his portfolio ; would they know him
as he slid the check under the window grille?
Look, no hands! no hands, no arms,
so couldn't possibly have forged that name,
how could he have held a pen,
without hands or fingers,
without any sort of trade or skill,
even if he stood, cap in hand,
and hemmed and hawed
and finally managed to say a few words,
and sat down (applause).
Even so, even if he got by
with a borrowed or stolen pass, and sneaked away,
and ran for all he was worth, until he fell
with a cardiac bombombardment up to the ears,
and was left there panting,
even so, he might at that,
up and walk in with a casual air
and give his name, address and phone number ;
and it looked all right
until you held it to the light
(the way you looked at it).
4. A Quiet Sort Of Guy
Enough of that; a sorry business, so forget it, and clear the
air for a little outdoor daylight, and on to the next case and
the next: what is it this time? what are you in for?
Here's a turning world! a show, where the judge is king,
as irked as Miss Myrtle in a bad year for royalty.
Every little office
has a despot of its own.
And if you think I exaggerate, and if you are interested, just
sign a lease and move in and see for yourself, and throw
your weight around and balance a sheet, an option, a terri-
tory if you can get it, and see how you make out in the big
chain, and break that chain, and what with?
Make out your resume, answer the ad and wait your turn
and see how you come out, if you qualify and keep quiet.
A quiet man like Moe Blow,
who blew in, and breathed at his desk,
careful not to make a sound,
until MacMean, the guy in charge,
started picking on him.
According to his story,
somebody had to take the rap from this guy;
well, it so happened that Moe Low-
just couldn't take that kind of guff
from him or anybody; but he took it.
Myrtle heard his griefs at supper time,
and goaded him till he was black and blue
and he took it to the front office.
So they transferred him to publicity,
but in no time something comes up,
an irritating trifle, really:
some people are just made for trouble.
You couldn't call him a trouble maker,
his resume was okay,
but somebody else started picking on him,
always picking on him,
like in the Barnyard Theory of Society,
where every chick pecks some other
and you go down the line to the one
who is pecked by all but pecks no other,
for he is the last in line
and a poor pecker,
and that's how it was with Moe Owe.
So he was in trouble again,
and back in the front office.
They pushed him around from dept. to dept.,
the best pecked man in the firm.
And finally had to go; so he went,
and that was the last we ever seen.*
*Of Moe No
A LONG STORY
1 . Their Worth Appears
And what happened? He slipped,
something snapped and gave, a cable thinned,
and the last thread curled away.
And that proved it: there's no such thing
as a sure thing j
can't trust those fine type guarantees.
It was your hot pot lot to have those troubles
bubbling up at you from the black pitpot,
like a lippy baboony loon,
like the face on the floor,
like a barfly buzzer,
a silly solly in a saloon.
And tings did ding together,
did concatenate, on the date
when they were due, and were met.
And who will ever dig in that dung
for the lost ring,
or the picture of health and happiness
(a dime in the five and dime)
or the lucky number?
His number on that one, a 45,
on the twing, on the sting,
wringing him out with a fever ;
got him! another one!
and the end of that one!
Could a chance shot, a stray bullet actually do such a thing,
entail such a course of events? It was just another rainy day,
and all that hung around in the wetness would dry out in
time, as a damp cereal hardens into a cake and you break a
tooth on it j that draininess, the dragging from rain to rain,
a long train of blues and grays, weary men, mile after mile,
and none knew the orders in the colonel's brief case; the
main thing, the cause and the end, lost, strayed, trampled,
a leaden English color pervading the southern countryside,
where the army tramps, the passing marksmen, had left
The grounds overgrown with loose vines
and clinging ivy trails,
their tendrils ringing the dry sticks,
the dead thread clasping the stone
in the oddest probing ways.
hanging on and staying on,
turning to ancience, to the patriarchal fiber
of rocks and redwoods, antique shapes,
and the quality of the dead;
what had withstood and remained,
and had let go whatever tears away
or falls away
or dries up and blows away.
Their frailties all put to the test,
like an alpine height adorned
with a frosty flower,
or the drowned sailor
by the ocean treasured.
Everything happened to them,
marked and drawn,
abandoned to the boundless past
and weathered in oblivion,
until their worth appears
to the stranger,
to the lucky hunter on the trail,
to the immigrant with his bundle and hunger,
his bad cough and his watery eye.
2. Her Boy
Fict, fact, ho hum, I smell the blood of an ingle, a narrow
little manch, a mere boy.
When I think of all it took to bring him to, and keep him
from expiring, how she wiped out his ears and nose with
little dabs of sterile cotton; and the diapers and all; and
how she fed him a spoonful at a time, the leggy, smelly,
fresh faced, drooly little swaddler with a waving fist,
clutching a toy and baaing like a lambkin.
How, when she held a spoonful at his mouth, he agreed
and opened wide and received the gift and swallowed it
down, how her lips, tongue, throat, in unison swallowed
with him and enacted the great big deed of a swallow it
down, and once more my little wallower, my brave little
swiller, one more swallow to summer it up, to supper it
down, and go to sleep my bamby. How her vitals breathed
with him, for she was his mother.
And so he grew and grew, and you should see him now.
A good lad, and a merry young hood is he, six foot one and
a half, with a low skull, crewcut, cropped to stipple and
bone; bright as they come, and quick on the draw.
And she still swallows when he swallows, and pulse by pulse
and word for word she follows him around, for he is her
heart and soul, her boy.
Did you really answer, were you responsive? What could you
tell, and why presume that you were up to the truth, or
whether that man had the mind to live his life over again,
in song or in word or deed, in fact or fiction, or a smile or
a tear, and by what authority, and how put him to the
proof and challenge him to dare and to show what was to
come to be known, and in what light?
How I threshed about 5 couldn't find my writing arm or my
pen, like a fish out of water, flipflopping and knocking all
over the deck.
A typical, hot and soggy, tropical case of flight: the trip
south, to flee and lee far away, as fast as heigho, as far as
you can go, and away we go, way off and wide of the mark,
for we are cowards all; who? you! me? it's only me! and
my theme? Courage:
was what was wrong with him,
whether he was a fool, just a damn fool,
a foolooleroy foldefolly fool!
or just a coward, a yellow fellow,
a cookoo, a card,
a tardy fardy lardy lad,
addled and errant as they come.
How about it?
what would you say it was, my boy?
come on, out with it, sir.
Say sir! say yessir! take off your cap,
your gray sombrero, lift your visor,
let us see your eyes,
show us your face and smile upon us j
a smile and a chuckle, that's fine!
that's a laddylassy; nice little dog!
Do not turn your face away.
Look me in the eye.
That was at short-arm inspection,
when I was exceedingly shy,
and the brutal barracks doctor
barked : "Face me ! "
as I came up in the line of naked boys
and stood a little sideways,
like September Morn,
never exposed before,
never, to my knowledge, looked at
in my stark, my hapless self.
If I were to dwell on a theme, such as courage, it might
come to something in the end, though I hadn't the slightest
whether I'd be here tomorrow; I'm a tryer, a pastmaster of
trials and errors, and I must keep going, and chance it from
day to day.
Courage: he had it after all, guts sei dank, for a while,
Courage is a brave thing. And the unlettered wind up in
Tin Pan Alley like they was a musician, though they never
took a lesson, but anyway they wrote those songs, Smile!
and the sunny side of the street and pack up your troubles,
smiling and smoking allowed.
4. Before Your Time
The wretched stirred and turned,
as the whistle blew.
They had a continuing hunger,
they were thin clad
in their hard childhood,
in the biblical years
that ring in my old head.
That ran on and on with the yarn
through the twirling in the mills,
that rolled and loomed in the rooms,
the grinding and the grating,
the fine and finer, to the spectral finest,
in the "dark Satanic mills."
And the daily bread, and the ovens,
from which I shied away
like an iron-shod horse
striking sparks on the cobblestone.
( My thread is too thin, it keeps knotting,
and the needle is dull from the match flame
which I use in surgery
for thorns from the garden,
for I am an expert with the needle,
a nearsighted visionary,
I can read the engraver's marks in a watch,
I am skillful with any kind of point,
with pen, brush or pencil,
or a hypo, or a point at law,
hooks and eyes, diffraction gratings,
points of the compass, and things like that,
but for distance I need glasses.)
Up and down those stairs,
in those barn-like stores
with the blinding electric bulbs,
the flagrant showcards,
the barrels and stacked cans,
the racked walls and the barred windows,
and the heavy, sour, ironic men
and dull boys behind the counters,
the grilled gates that folded by day,
and the brass burglar sign:
THESE PREMISES PATROLLED.
One night, as I climbed a stair,
an alarm bell went wild,
like a trolley in the old days, before your time,
when these pavements were veined with rails.
The same clamoring jangle
that tore me out of a dream,
where I panted and cried out,
my heart hammering to the same bell,
the same hell crashing past
on its twin steel thread,
through the crossing glare
into a hole in the West
Where I lived downtown as a boy,
between the junk castles of the El
and the turkish subway domes
of Avenues A, B and C,
up one step to a door, a hall, a cell,
a cot, a chair,
a print on the pasty wall,
a false tin hearth,
and a window with the blind down.
5 . Heaven Trembled
The way it was, the way it is,
in any language.
The same rough, hard guys
going the same way on the same course
on the high road or the low road,
and making the same sounds and rounds
with a hoarse throat or a brogue.
Heavy shod like those big Brittainy steeds,
those giant brewery beasts
with their manes way up high,
their snorts, their forelocks,
a white diamond on the forehead,
or a white band down the nose,
and their friendly brown eyes,
the nice nellie eyes looking down at you
or straight ahead without a smile or a thought,
or a hanging head way down low,
because of the weight of holding up your head,
such a literal lyman face, with a humorless look,
not a spiritual, not a refined face,
but a nice face.
A low soul, a horse without a spur.
Prince Henry in the saddle, a bonny prince,
up at dawn to ride and leap
and a headless horseman in the mountains
with the stars and the whippoorwill,
and the scissors umbrella man!
In the open wagon he rode his grindstone,
held an eager knife to the wheel ;
the kitchen butcher sword
hissed and bit the stone,
and a leaking cup above
tinked drops of water on the whirling edge;
his face in a peacock fan, a comet tail of sparks,
as he worked the treadle
with his leather-toed Shakespearean foot,
and made organ music.
I used to tiptoe through the great doors
and steal by hoary pillar and nave,
where I could see the distant sheaf of pipes
embossed upon the wall that arched
to a thorny gothic crown.
There, to the side, alone,
a little black-suited man
labored at the organ.
Heaven trembled and spoke
in a very deep voice.
That boy by a wing in the rear,
by the beards, by the prophets,
was lost in the sound
and dared not come out,
he might hide in a bench for days or years,
and no one would dream of looking there,
he was safe ; and yet an elderly man
might appear and lift a beckoning finger,
and gently motion him to leave.
Like a thief he loitered in the book-lined aisles, and settled
by a barred window with The Light That Failed by Rud-
yard Kipling, and sat until the light did fail; evening de-
scended, all quiet but for a sniffle, for he was alone, with-
out a handkerchief, and wept his way to the blind end.
All had gone and locked up for the day, and there was no
way out but a mouse hole under a steam pipe. But he was
of a mighty race, a sturdy boy from the Bronx and only ten
miles from home, and they'd never find out; a likely lad,
handy with his fists, he had fought from street to street
through the shades of Dublin, to the river rats by the flats.
And so he felt his way to a window, and crashed the icy
barrier, snipped the barbed wire with the pliers he always
carried with him, and on his belly inched his way to free-
dom. Climbed to his feet and dusted off his hands and with
a cautious look around observed, he was alone.
A paved vista, to shudder at and to flee: northward and
easterly, on the long trek home, where he would arrive
without knocking and without greeting (for all had gone)
and tiptoe to the cot in the hall.
6. Eye Trouble
When you put on your brand new glasses and saw the
world, atoms sharp as frost sprang into- sight, bright as a
starry sky, as a frozen window pane in Cream Ridge when
you were a boy.
Now with your eye trouble, with that tiny cloud, always a
little to the left, you have become concerned with vision.
A funny thing, Moe's brother was blind as Milton all
through the war.
Always end up in war,
because you see they don't agree
And they're always, an endless, never
never finish explaining, never make it clear:
just a little disagreement is what led to it all,
started from nothing at all, it was nothing!
and what was it about this time?
Whell, hell, of course, now that you ask,
the minute you ask, it all blanks out,
suddenly he has a fit, a spell,
that's it! he couldn't spell
a little word like eye,
e > y> e ) eve - y° u - me - m y> °h m y>
such troubles I seen,
and right away I diagnosed it
as plain as right between the eyes, like
the nose on your face:
it was eye trouble.
He needed glasses
for to seesaw
a sign of the times.
For the race was shortsighted and going blind
and batty, like an atomed yapanape ;
and couldn't spell because he couldn't see;
it was their stubborn
blindness, their refusal to see:
And their superior view
of the morality of the whole thing
was a trick of vision
When they all saw the same thing at the same time.
When unhappily I couldn't read, and couldn't manage it all
alone in the encyclopedia: you looked up a word and it led
you to another and still another, a merry chase, back to the
first word in the first place, and rightly so, according to
Russell, a kindred spirit of my youth, for the best of us
are tautologists all, synonomystics from way back, and it
figures, after all: an i for an i; ask a wordy question and get
a wordy answer.
So what's the lowdown on this thing, and what's your line?
Wouldn't it be something, if the witty panel tried to guess,
and everybody listened in; for your line is tapped, the age
of privacy is past. Notice a little peep right in the middle
of a word? it's that wire-tapping thing:
The whole town, the papers say,
is tapped twenty-four hours a day,
because they want to trap Izzy Shuster
in a private chat
with his boyhood friend Lou Blue,
for his F. B. Iography
For their microphiles,
lovers of little things.
7. Sunday Morning Bell
He had run his course in history,
a lineal, pineal son of a pioneer $
a railroader with a big silver dollar watch
and English fathers, bearing and forbearing.
All the way to the warning sign
at the railroad crossing;
over the weedy road, with his bundle and stick,
a forked, whittled stick ; prospecting for water,
past the railway ties where, bar by bar,
the train ran its journey song.
A herdsman, a talesman with a flock of words,
a warder herder, a murther werther,
a pantic mantic by the wayside stream.
By the pebbled beach,
by the sparkle at the land's end,
where the sun slicked the stretches
and slimy green stone,
the mud sucking flats
of saucery, spotted blue shells
and spurts and shots of spray.
The sallow seabirds fell away,
their heads down and their wings high,
and hung and swung
and wrung a living from the deep,
from the shallows and the island break,
from the stormy edge,
the clouding and the darkening.
They hid their heads under their wing,
in terror of the lightning
and the thundering, falling, foaming,
What are the wild waves saying,
fluttering their handkerchiefs
and frothy petticoats, their slips showing?
Was it the rockbound Atlantic,
that loony, moony shore,
by the silvery dune?
The high necked, narrow ship,
bird eyed, locust winged,
copper faced, serpent tongued, frowning,
with lightning oars.
A red crowned Viking shell
dancing, merrily chopping forward,
leaping, cleaving the solemn sea.
At the prow, with one knee bent,
a foot on the rail, a hand shading the eye
westward, with the running tide,
to that silence bound.
leaped to the sandpaper beach,
the thin pure water streaming,
racing past, seizing his armored feet.
Struck shore and planted the flag,
the diamond studded, starflecked flag
of universal brotherly
murder afoot and afloat,
pressed home, to the heart
of the new found heartland,
jewel of her majesty, Isabelly,
by the light
of her severed, lily white hand.
Her strong right droit,
her might and her main,
great God our King.
And they still sang that anthem,
the Pilgrims in their mother hubbards,
their leathered sons and aproned daughters,
their grandmas, their Moses and their running noses:
ran up the flag and sang, Great God Our King.
And still sang it that way,
with my fellow scholars, with our wide white collars,
and our preacher and our teacher:
we sang every morning in assembly:
Great God Our King.
In the rocky meadow,
where the apples blow
by the rutty road,
the mossy, daisy dotted
cool to our brownskin toes,.
by the slippery brook,
in the world-wide dawn,
with the spring-water brightness on our faces
and our big sleepy morning eyes and blue lips,
we would start for school down the road,
all the way to the turning and climbing
over the hill
to the poor little schoolhouse.
By the square white clapboard church,
with the buggy sheds weathering
over a trampled and shadowed spot
by the picket rail and the churchyard slabs
on the ragged slope,
and here and there through the clay,
a rib and knuckle of stone.
We never came to that church,
nor stepped over that high stair
through the double door of varnished oak.
It was for the gentiles, and not ours,
not for us, not for our folks,
(with a smiling shake of the head)
funny how all the others
belonged to that school and that church
and that land and that town.
When the Sunday morning bell
sang pure gold,
like the sun in the sky,
we heard it as we heard the loud bee
and the train's faraway cry.
And once in the yard right after school,
the long legged boy
in a leering, sneering, snotty voice,
called me a sheeny.
The class came round in a ring; I closed my eyes and tried
to see the next step in the game: it was my turn. And I
saw my father nod his great bright head, and I saw my
mother's wondering smile, as if to call me back, to run and
hide my face against the bark of our apple tree, to press my
forehead on the bellied trunk, and count up to ten, or up to
I should be brave and step up and give him a kick in the
crotch with my heavy, newly shod left foot; and so I did.
And they howled: Unfair! Kick him back! And so he did.
And started knocking me down. We were parted and
soundly boxed by Mr. Hendrickson was his name.
And Miss Clayton, after we moved away, sent us little bible
stories every Christmas. We used to laugh at her sending us
the same little bible stories, as if we never grew up, and we
loved her in fond remembrance, no mere homish, aimishe
woman, real and Jewish, but a sort of angel, a picture in a
book, made out of some lamblike sweetness of thistle-blown
light stuff and nonsense, a lovely kind of a good girl in a
fine white apron or a wedding dress, like a nun or a little
dead child in a silk baby carriage, with all the wondering
people filing by.
I saw her through the wide doors
by the stair of gilt organ pipes
in the starry interior twilight.
I saw her climb the lily-stemmed iron step
of the buggy with the high spindled wheels
and the dashboard in a swan curve
that came to a fine edge like a violin.
The patient mare's wispy mane
and long face warped like an old board
pinched to hollows at the eyes,
eyes of marble, looking nowhere ;
and the leather looped to the shafts
in knots learned by a farmer's boy
when he was broken to harness
and to the hard lot
of a slim gelding boy.
The shafts of ash tapered upward
at the mare's strapped breast,
and the wheels were edged with steel
worn to a blinding flash.
How those spokes whirled,
how those rims ground and caught the road,
when the reins snapped and the mare gave stride
and the sand flew and they rolled away,
rose away into heaven,
past the turn, and into the blue.
8. Aspects Of Moe
A man, a chance man
in a game of chance,
a game man in a world of chance,
a cock of the walk.
A lanewalker, a little lame in his talk,
a Walker by name is how I knew him,
and knew them all when they were small,
when, in the course of events,
in the early forefather days, when all was known,
they landed in force and spanned the continent.
By intent and discontent
driven across the continent,
contending and bargaining,
they rode, they strode, they hoed,
and such were their verbs
and herbs and whatnots.
As if I cared, or anybody wanted to know;
no, not I ; oh no, really
it doesn't matter, we are not concerned
and we are not amused.
And when asked we refused,
we were simply rude
in the gude old days.
Heading and tailing, ringing and wrung,
wrong and ailing, all of us,
every last and thirsty one of us
Thrusting on for all we were worth,
to the earth, to the birth of a nation,
and a key to the car, and kingdom come.
And thus we came, nous and vous,
poor as the little pisher who changed his name
to Waterman, his spritchual name,
his blue-black, indelible, immortal name.
We knew him,
he passed by the name of Mottle or Mot;
in a word, we called him Morty,
and not only was that his nom,
but that's who he was:
Moe was actually him,
known to his mom as Mutt and none other,
and as cute as a toy.
But oh, how you've changed!
from a lad of promise to this,
a bag of small potatoes.
Really of indionne descent,
a five and ten, comes in quints,
finf cents a quint, and a four
makes a quadre without a padre,
without a dingading a jingle
of a single dime,
a coin in his loin;
a schoenem shame, a fine thing,
a gonif, a runaway niff ,
a don't give a dram, a drunk, who you are,
what you want from me?
A likely lad, a fine and dandy,
like father j come hither!
and he was and was, and kept right on,
a such aladdin, an imp
from the lumpen proletaire,
with a frenchy flair,
a fancy vest with polka dots.
The cards were stacked,
and it was hardly a question of right,
but only how the world went.
Earned a living with his head,
a hydra headsman,
win or lose, he bet his head.
Don't take it to heart, why carry on
about this man with an axe,
this swordsman with his guard up
and his gristle and his gorge rising
Who emigrated to a friendlier clime
and a smithy with hammer and forge.
In the new land,
it struck you like the dawn
over your own inner and utter self:
by the dawn
of the cold American light
of a morning on the common,
fair and square, in the new age,
in peacetime, in daytime,
to your surprise, you saw for yourself
That this savage
was a fine figure of a man.
Strong features, a wry humor
in the goodly face.
And if you added the garb of a gentleman,
would you not ascribe to him
all the graces of an european,
a gentile continental,
adept in manners and philosophy?
A proud race, wherever you found him,
in whatever age or condition,
polyphonian or philognosian or megamnesian,
or etruscan or hardshelled or crabbed
from the severity of the winters,
which bred humorous men
with pale, meditative eyes
and a mystical inclination
through the long twilight.
Imagine, for example:
Sir Percival with sword and silken purse,
a fragrant Aurelius, robed from the bath,
and Aristotle's peacock mortal.
Suppose these rogues in a row,
side by side in the line-up.
And let each one in turn
into the merciless glare.
9. A Fledgeling State
Started off on the wrong foot
with a wild itch in my little left toe
from the ringaround a tinea in my toe,
where I had stepped into the world
Into the damp earth, with a clay foot,
a statue of a dead man,
to tell no tales, to toll no bells,
to roll no bones,
to come no more through kestle garden,
the castle of eden,
of the gard in the gate of the caste,
by the stat of lib, to ad lib
in the dawn of a new rife,
by entry into the Ian o' cotton,
you lauffer, you iddler
with a lefty laugh in your side,
a tricky way to live and get by,
living and longing,
trimmed and weeded,
saved and shaved, with
a wife for life.
So, on we roll to better days,
to beg, to curse,
to nurse his wrongs,
and never give up and never forgive,
an unforgiver, with onion on his breath,
and keep his distance,
and know his place.
Can't place him,
don't know him from Adam,
on Washington Square,
on the library steps, in the lobby
with liberal bibers
who swear by the will of the peep,
behind the scenes where laws is made,
by the dice, the vice of the pips,
for M ox is a stubborn ox,
rocks in his head,
in his solid ivory dome.
Mamsehren every last one of them,
a fledgeling state of black crows
on the high sizzles.
Stained the ocean blue with a couple teabags
in Boston harbor over the side.
Buster disguised as an American eagle
dumped a little Indian tea, sprinkled the tide
with an inky writ upon the waters.
And read our destiny
in the tea leaves on the ocean floor,
a potion, a brew, a heady strong drink
over the brink, over the half seas over
with a glezzele,
a hot china cup of British
strong sweet black
glass of tea,
every last ship of the line burning at sea.
Their whole cargo of strong blacks
alive or dead from the hold, over the side,
to save the ship of state, captain my captain.
Take him below, clap him in irons,
and cover up till the Treasury men have gone
for a cup of rummy Bermuda toddy
for the freedom of the navy
and a fleet of our own, Roger.
A jailbird fledged and flown,
lock the doors, burn down the barn,
and to the gallows !
A deal is a deal,
so deal me another hand.
One in the hand; deal me four more,
with a poker face, and I'll take a poke at you;
a pigapoke, ten years in the pen.
10. Plain As Day: A Western
Really all of a kind,
and the way you look at it :
At a slum town,
a shanty with a barber pole,
a wooden man, big as life,
in front of the cigar store,
cracking and warping, with a dark knot-hole.
As plain and dull as calico,
or a revolver on a belted hip,
a common bore;
as plain as fact,
as a rainwashed, peeling wall,
where the frost comes through.
There Abe made do, and wouldn't fail
in the drowsy fire or the familiar darkness
when all the West
wallowed in the same flung mud and rain,
made a go of it till he could see
and hold to what he knew,
when needed, when a call came through,
and you sank in the powdery snow to your knees,
climbing to the holly-decked door.
Inside, a kettle singing, and everything bright
to read by firelight of tall, serious men
of wit and principle, and plain as day,
true as a straight line between two points,
straight as a rip in his black coat.
Euclid's page and Noah's ark,
the due respect of mankind,
a turkey in the straw,
and a general store in town,
man to man and eye to eye,
and take it out in tobacco,
in wood, stone, water, meat,
hewn, hauled, drawn and quartered,
weighed and known.
A marked man,
with a sorrowful eye when alone.
A good man with a story to warm a friend
and a poke in the side
to cheer him on the cheerless way.
A prayerful man, in the candle glow,
with the white cloth, the sacred buttery loaf,
the china cup, and the gilt, tooled book,
the black ribbon marking the place.
All is fair, all is right on the sabbath,
for it is the way out of the barnyard.
Wash up, brighten up,
and shine up the brass and the silver
for company coming.
Abraham made a living in the town,
and joined in song, when the occasion arose
for a word on right and wrong.
Also known as Davy Crock, a renegade,
a gambling rat, he fled the vigilantes
by the back yard, over the fence
and down the river on a ticket West,
and was caught in the melee,
when they started shooting
down Mehico way.
And it's understandable and plain,
how a homespun man of intellect
went along with the myth and the fable,
the Eastern light over the savage West,
tidings of the Child, the tender story
of Mary and Joe,
and lent himself to ceremony,
appeared and showed himself in church,
his cracked eagle head in the doorway.
Those things happened to everyone,
in the age of godly men
and the devil in the belfry.
11. A Short Sleep
And what shall grow from this seed
in my own, my native land?
Now look what's in the air!
A pregnant air, a laden air
bearing the trumpet blow
and blossoms falling,
the dry cloud, the rain of skydust
and smoke gets in your eyes.
On the ear, with waterfalls,
and fowl of the western plain,
as they came to rest in the trees
like pictures in a Persian book.
Each bird took shelter,
found a branch to cling
and a twig to grasp,
to fold wings for a short sleep,
and there in the sanctuary
the hunters saw them.
Blasted them in their glory,
their crests and wind-worn breasts,
their tight, gold-fingered feet
and fuss and feathers,
and heads and tails
in their warpaint and sunset colors
and sunrise voices,
their dazzled, worldwide calls,
their chattering commotion
like a lake in a breeze,
crowding each other
with the business of wings
and cries from heart to heart
all around the mulberries
and in a pear tree!
in the air space
universally acknowledged to be free.
The seas below dashed high,
lifting the ships,
their arrow wakes shot on the wave,
and drowning the rock,
each rock a continent
for a pause in flight,
to come to earth
for rest from heaven.
And in this lowland
of mist and shining dew and branching stream,
of gathering and nestling sleep,
they sank, a cloud of thankful sprites,
drooping to the trees,
each fledgeling migrant, with his bundle,
his ounce of mind and fear,
his pounding body and wing.
And here, through the low wash of air
came those flashes,
those streaks and cracks of doom
from the lips or the eyes or the arms
of those ground-bound bog beings.
And so to the lightning from those walking worms
crying up at them with whistling sting,
cracking the shells of the air:
to the whips of fire, the birds fell and fell,
and crashed in hot clouds,
in armadas of pain, they answered back
by assault in darkling fleets
of pain-flame to the ground.
And here their plumage
was plucked and packed in sacks
for the market,
for those earthen bodies
to wear to church
on a Sunday afternoon
on a stroll in the park
and how are you today
and how are my folks is fine
And oh, what a beautiful morning,
everything's going my way.
You've all read about
the fatalists and dealers,
their art and their journals of trade,
no doubt you heard about it
and read it somewhere
For it is history and on the records
of the naturalists and the bird watchers,
the four and twenty blackbirds,
and Old Grandad, a dark brew
from the hills of Kentuck,
stuck a feather in his hat,
and all their own doing
from beginning to end.
And not only the birds
but those banshees, the darker bipeds,
the Indians in forest flight:
traders and huntsmen cut them down
with all vanished beasts and winged creatures
with their sharp eyes and their windy hair.
It is remembered and admitted
and known to be true.
And not only that, but it was on his mind,
and the fact that he found it there in his mind
was rather surprising,
such a leap into the birded past
from the future dark
with groundless fear,
and fear of flight,
and fear of open spaces, and of height.
12. Their Own Kind
They used to run cartoons
of bolsheviks, bear-like brutes with beards
and bombs with fuses lit, anarchists, socialists,
all one to you and me, for we was okay.
Remember the editorials in big type,
where they spelled it out for us
till we was spellbound and rarin to go,
and we went, too!
and not all of us came back.
I see by the papers they stoned this girl
who wanted to go to college.
I attended this alleged institoot,
served my term
in this here daisy chain gang, where they mocked up
a potchwork curriculum for the criminal young
by the criminal old,
for a crummy career in a white robe
as a racist at the track, on the bloody campus,
where they allowed in the privy, that they were
And as for you, well, you
were the jewboil from across the border
and over the rainbow and back you go.
And that's how I found it,
that instit of loining where gents were made,
and where the sign said: while mule only;
where they clap in jail to an old folk tune
of the smokies and pokies, and as pure
as their sisters and mothers,
like father like son,
down the line.
He showed you a snapshot of his boy,
learning to handle a rifle,
and talked guns, fishing and hunting.
He had a way of staring at you
as he mentioned doing well, getting along
with the people who owned the town,
the oil, the soil, the rails and rights,
and awfully nice, their own kind, the kind to know
in a time of danger from abroad
and from within ; boring and drilling new wells,
a future in natural gas! He flew his own Piper Cub
from pipe line to pipe line, direct to Washington,
and never went shooting in the mating season.
13. A Past Offender
It's like the zoo or the museum, like sightseeing, you know,
or slumming, or a short evening course at Ennui U., or
why you? why not me? or a three and a half hour cruise
around Manhattan Island, on a twin screw yacht for a tour-
aluralu through Taraharah halls, or a course at the U. of
Balabam, a Georgian studying for the priesthood, to wear a
cowl; a hood who rose to power, in the class war, head of
his class and a good debater; a pressure boy, with tickets to
the show, a little black check book in his double breasted,
double-dyed black overcoat, and a little black satchel, a
traveling salesman who left his bag at the whistle stop. It
seems there was a farmer's daughter.
So there's an election coming on
and so who's running? why, all the boys,
running all over the campus, a riot!
all out! comin' through the rye,
over the pig sty and the crooked style
to the warehouse for arms, to arms!
for defense! for freedom!
for virginalia and genitalia!
to arms, the Sow is on fire!
There's a pretty girl on the campus,
on tour from Hollywood, don't miss her!
a disturbing little thing
in a black skin.
She stands in her car, to the cheers
and the leers,
who threw that one? in the eye
and win a trip around the world,
a four year term at the U. of A.,
a chance on the team,
and a free trip to Washington
and leave your pants on the field of honor:
and bet your black bottom dollar
and your last red cent,
you are whiter than blacker
than grayer than browner
than yallower than mellower
than a true believer,
you lucky hound!
Marched in the Mardigras,
in the Macy parade, with the big balloons,
with micky mouse and crazy coot,
a gunman and his moll,
Macarthur on heigho, a flying red horse.
And the man from Missouri
who had a purring catch in his voice
like an abused and starry eyed schoolmarm
busy with the chalk, and a bit feeble minded
with loyalty, bless us all, reading her speech
from a large yellow pad
Who had a change of heart,
in a treasury of song,
a tuneful saloonful of barbershop balladry
with a pole at half mast;
and learned how to hold your hat on your chest
as the boys came marching by ;
how he changed!
game little bantam,
chesty little rooster,
flew from battlement to turret,
from deck to deck, reviewed the fleet,
a whoosier, a statesman, a man of statue,
stood his ground at the same old stand
(a hell of a way to run a country)
and got away while he had his health,
a plain man, a common man,
a bit common but you'd love him.
Acutally you can't prove a thing,
for he's true blue,
and lily white and true
And a riot at a party; a spry little banterer, a character with
a grin: what more do you want? You can say what you like,
but he had responsibility, he acted with circumspection, with
knowledge of consequences. He was the Hero of Shima,
and down in history it will be told how it didn't occur to
anyone, not even to the enemy, to pause and wonder at the
kindly little man with a purring catch in his voice. As he
used to say: "To each and every one of you, my greetings to
one and all, to every single one I tingle with pride and
Remember the awe, the jubilation!
at the news, like Judgment Day,
when you read of the star in the East,
the white man's star
that fell on Alabam, bambam!
or rather way out yonder overseas
on the other side of the world,
fell upon a multitude
And showed them what they were: dust.
And turned them into heavenly light,
unto each and every one,
thou dost undone,
undid and doodone
and doodid, with that dewdad of yours.
He had a south'n disposition,
he let the sun into their homes and hearts,
sonnyboy, the light of the world.
A sun shines east and a sun shines west
and I know where the sun shines best,
mahamammy! in total darkness
and in blackface, a question of race
in the race for command of the skies,
shattered and tattered.
And damned if he do, and damned if he didn't!
and I'll be damned, he went and dood it!
look what we done! all our own doing
all together, tarred with the same,
all of a feather, a ticklish question
of conscience and world dominion and opinion,
on the side of the angels, the anglomanians
who thought they had won the war, hehe!
and a high diddle and a yankee doodle
and a dandy, a humdinger, that one!
It sure beat anything in the Bible.
Zeus with his firecrackers
had nothing on Manny Kelly up there
in his bulldozer in the sky;
and when he let go,
it was bigger than the Lone Ranger
and what hath God wrought!
Topped anything in the Old Testament.
Don't take it to heart, and judge not!
not a matter of judgment
nor a juridical question at all,
who's judging, just wondering,
and my feelings are showing, that's all;
so you don't have to look
and you don't have to feel,
let bygones, not the least bit sorry,
for nature has a way of healing
and a way of blaming it on Nature.
You meddler you,
could you do better than Nature,
how Thy infinite ways,
thou awful Being,
how now brown Cow,
thou black Cat on a moonless Night
in the blind man's sight,
ain't Nature wunnerfool!
fulled you that time,
and put one over on you,
a child of nature; coming, Ma!
You always was a schizo, a bird
with both feet on the ground and part underground,
a scratcher, an itcher and a digger,
a high flyer with a low disposition,
a crawler with a grand design,
two faced and double sided,
sweet and salt and peppery, reduced to tears
when you knew those things and saw those things,
yet couldn't stand a guy like Maxy Axey,
close and nasty with his love of mankind
and his nerve to come out and risk his hide
for lefts and rights, for labor, for the cause
of the rollypolitary, the polly state,
tried and true, and not for you.
So take your stand,
empty handed, with civil tongue in cheek,
and speak out
on some "level of abstraction"
with such bloody ease, gory be!
And I ask you again and repeat :
how come you never said a word,
how come you weren't there, little man,
and never shot off your mouf
when the going was rough,
and stayed in your little back yard,
and never came right out and blew off your face,
when history was being made?
Never could think of an answer
until long after, years later
when it was all in the history books.
I return to my first and last question :
I put it to you: how come you failed,
and all you did was stand there and wring your hands,
and how can you stand there?
Take it like a man, or an old woman,
or a poor Jewish peddler,
and start all over on a shoestring,
and tie that one if you can.
Well then, granted and allowed, and on the record,
that in each and every case you were late,
and slow to wrath, and didn't know the score,
and never knew what hit you.
Because of a trauma in your infancy or something,
stubborn and off your rocker,
and bye-bye and curtains for you,
and nuts to you, and the skids for you, kid.
Skedaddle while you can,
catch the next train and pay the fare,
spend it, spend it while there's still time,
you're not too old,
have faith, have luck, have a good time.
What was your line,
how did you make out,
and what could you, in that land
of the scribes and the bards
and your father's moustache?
And why didn't you write, a line or two
when we still remembered you?
Not even a card, and never called up,
for absence was his calling.
What was he anyway, now that you know?
And how delineate him
in line, with no shadows showing,
how make him visible,
how possibly appear, where all is light,
with no dark accent, no hint of something
opposed to the light and entering the light?
You have blundered out of bounds,
what are you doing here?
arrest that man! hold him in sight,
make something of him,
and give him leave to be,
and to speak, and to be heard,
and to hear himself,
let him in, take him in.
And disposed of him, have you?
haven't seen the last of him yet,
an old turner and returner,
and no known address, postage due,
an underdogged kind who felt at home only
among his own underkinder, never grew up,
and I'm sick and tired of telling you about him,
a past offender,
and no more room on his card.
You can trace him, refer him from number to number, in a
direct line on Washington, where he was placed and finally
got a job; and you can see him any time on Channel 3,
while the going is good and before he is cleared; and ac-
tually he was never really cleared, there was something
wrong, association with a well known poet, in a headline of
potty voice, a postcard from his home town by an anony-
mous subscriber, about a whispering campaign, a May Day
parade of his former friends marching on, arching on, to a
review by the Supreme Court, on leave to parade his
wrongs j and they were with him, each and all, to the last
man, but the band was in front and he was in back, and to
the T. V. cameras he seemed out of step, a whole beat be-
hind, and the times picked it up and there was an item
in the paper.
FIVE FOOT FOUR
1. Me And Herbie (Samples)
"In every shape, manner and form,"
Herbie would say, and pause
and swallow, with a lift of his jaw.
As a matter of fact, as Herbie would say,
we were so alike, he and me :
you'd swear I was him.
Point for point, in height, in collar,
in hat size,
in every essential,
the same order or quality
and the same price on the market, I should say.
I thought I'd manage, day by day,
if I walked my beat, and beat my gums,
flatfooted over the sidewalks hot and cold
and in that way, come what may,
covered ground and did my juty,
and held my job,
my patient, hourly, time keeper's
matching, hatching job,
my night watch, doing time.
But I was no good on a rainy day,
not much in a winter drizzle,
with a bad left side,
a poor head and a lame arm,
and practically legless, what a man,
what a veteran,
what a sign of the times
for a feature in the Sunday paper.
Southpaw though he was, and hindered
by ignorance of the law, and a temper,
an evil mind and a loose tongue ;
in short, a wag and a dog,
and a wit of no consequence,
purveyor of bad jokes, indicted
for corrupting the young lesbians ;
an example, they said in the senate,
an ugly mugly.
Like my neighbor, whose name I won't mention,
who, the papers say, was convicted again
and off on a five year rap
for good behavior, and serve him right ;
he too imagines himself
a comrade of the immortals,
so let him drink himself to death
behind the bars,
holding forth to his fellow cons,
like Walt Whitman
venerably cracking puns
with his boon self-celebrants
at his ninetieth party
in Valhalla or somewhere,
wherever he went.
As a boy of seventeen,
I shrank from putting on the white smock
of a short order waiter.
When I saw my brother Phil behind the counter,
him and Pop, both in white, side by side,
in the uniform of servitude,
how I backed away!
I would not wear the white habit,
crisp as a nurse's or a nun's,
soon greased with bloody smears ;
I shuddered at that shroud,
already alone, and crowded
by outrage on every side,
and here my nearest
were ranged with the enemy,
stood and waited for me,
and had the law on me,
and God was with them
and the odds against me.
(It is more and more distant and strange,
and you're ever farther from the hope
of returning to the truth,
as you do when wakeful at night,
when all is clear and could be told with ease.)
When I have proved it possible,
when I have kept my word to the last,
I shall not mind doing those little things.
I shall not mind,
an idler again, and glad to be around
to practise a few christian virtues,
happy to' sweep up, and do a favor,
and I shall not mind waiting on table,
and playing host, and anything else,
and thank you for the opportunity.
2. The Lost Word
You make your point
or lose it, a little mixed up, like Emma
with a story in her smile, in her eyes,
heavily gazing toward a ceiling in the sky,
and she can't remember; and the thread of the story,
somehow the curl of the tale with a twist
is lost in a smiling cloud,
and she cries: No! and starts again,
and who knows the story?
who can thread the needle or find the button?
She is nearsighted too,
a bit frayed and afraid, and comes to me,
a match in one hand and a needle in the other,
always gathering thistles in the garden,
and I have to take them out, one at a time,
and rail at such carelessness.
I can't remember. I am so tired,
so very gone, and really, at my age,
no exercise, no tennis, no violence please,
temerity and dexterity yes,
and that other something, what was it,
all the vogue, it had crossed the ocean,
when controversial characters were still
permitted on the radio.
A notion that caused a commotion
and dazzled generations of teachers
and young book reviewers
of the charm school of critischism,
the cherchez set.
The jewel of a thought is gone.
So we'll do without, we're good at that,
and we'll get along, never mind,
nobody notices anyway,
with troubles of their own.
Decorum, the lost word!
Was it worth all that fury,
for what? an old laundry ticket
and a wrong number.
And what to do with it in this apartment,
an impossible place, with no closet space.
I'm all for decorum! I recall with discomfort
my uncouth behavior toward practically everybody.
Never learned how to behave
(never learned anything well)
and I must and I will, yes, one of these days
I'll go to each and every one
and explain and apologize.
3. Five Foot Four
When we got home I said: "I can't have an argument, not
tonight!" I said, taking off my overcoat.
Even this morning, in the dark before the dawn, as I turned,
to ease my bad shoulder, she muttered, "so mean of you to
wake me!" Even in her sleep, one good turn between the
dawn and the daylight, and another complaint, a lifeless
strife, and he no saint.
So you see how it was: as I lay in pain I heard myself say-
ing, "if anybody ever knew, how they would shake their
In the subway last night, while we were waiting for our
train, I had said: "Let's walk to the north end!" and I said
it again, but nobody heard.
With her great dark eyes, she was giving Emma stabbing
looks, and Emma's eyes flashed back, while Benny stood
aside as always, in a corner by himself, his face stuck in the
theatre program. And the only one who heard me was a
stranger looking on from behind, over my bad shoulder.
So I didn't insist, and let the sound fall on the air.
A little thing like saying, "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to ex-
clude you and belittle you, and deny you to your face and
make believe you weren't there!" a little kindness like that,
or a smile of regret, was too much ; it wouldn't occur to her
that it was all I wanted, standing there, silenced on the
And I felt it, what it meant to be a hero to your own rela-
tions, just as I stood there, obviously nobody, and that's how
it was, as far as I was concerned.
I could see she had heard me, but she went right on, so I
made a point of it. "Didn't you hear me, Emma?" I asked,
"you didn't seem to hear me!" "Yes, I did," she said.
"That's all right," I said, "you heard me and ignored me,
and it wasn't the first time."
(Right here in the middle of my story the buzzer is going
like mad; it's the Con Edison man with his bag of tools j so
you see I can be interrupted! And if my neighbor would
only shut up, if the gas man could only convert her to
Emma wanted to borrow a thousand dollars, and you know
how some people are: how quick her eye catches fire, with a
gasp at what you are about to say; so she shouted, though
it hurt her to shout out her heart: "No! I won't give you
any security! I won't take out any bonds!"
"Who asked you?" I cried. Myrtle cried: "What's the mat-
ter with you?" Emma cried: "A louse, that's all he is!" And
Flora cried: "You fool! Think what you like!" as she
caught up her things and flew.
Actually it struck me dumb,
and I didn't talk to her a whole year.
She wasn't the kind to say, "I'm sorry," or laugh it off with
a kiss, and could do no wrong ; no one in that family had
ever done such a thing.
That's the way they were: puritan mayflower jews with a
stern and rockbound mien, quaker roundhead squares, as far
as feelings were concerned.
"Well, I said it, so I said it, and it's what I called you, so
it's what I called you!" turning on her heel, head high,
with a tight, peculiar smile.
To voice a truth of the heart they must burst into tears, like
those sobbers and heavy breathers on T. V.
Benny argued softly: "You know, such things really can't
go on; you've got to overlook some things; so she said it,
so what? suppose she did or didn't say it!"
I don't remember how we started talking again,
but that's what counts: how the theme is revealed,
and a man is exposed, chastened,
tempered by insult,
unnoticed, beneath contempt,
and stinks to heaven.
That was the point: it showed you up, you too,
the graceless things you did in your time,
and your stature, just as it was,
your five foot four or four foot five,
or somewhere in that order of magnitude.
For instance, let's face it,
how does it look, how does it sound,
the way you acted with George Ackney,
and your behavior toward Jimmy Reim,
and what you did to poor Haim Grime,
and deeds and occasions like that ;
a victim of justice, by the hounds of heaven,
zounds bounds, what a bounder you were,
and were at that!
4. Jamus Died
Shudder at it and don't mention it, don't give yourself away,
not by a sign in word or deed or in writing ; we're not giving
anything away on this poisonairy program, on the lethal
radio waves, on the laden air of this Eden. Cover up and make
no reference to any such thing, what are you talking about!
Yourself as usual; your self-made man, your artist and
model which he had built from spare parts, and called his
soul his own, and owned it outright.
What were you driving at, about this loving, self serving
self, your lonesome pine, your solitary, your Jim jam Happy
Heim, the poet you once knew?
now's your chance to confess.
He was one of those you wronged,
among the wronged,
the one you wounded in a blast
in a journal of the day,
for you were ignorant and knew it not,
an ailing pauper in your pride
until too late, too late for love,
too poor to love
or know what he was doing
and trying to say.
One of those you lost,
to make an end of love,
a witness of your deathly youth
in this city of diamond dust,
where Jamus died.
You could swear he was alive,
his hard cheek shining and his hard eye bright
as he lay in the strength of his flesh and bone,
as if, just as if alive,
a box of something strange,
a stranger in a box,
moving away from here through the door
in formal attire.
And why did it have to happen like that,
and why did you have to be like that,
tell me, why did you,
why were you late, why couldn't you,
while there was still time,
show him you loved him,
and there to meet him
and smile, at least smile to him.
And you know why? because you were wrong,
you were entirely
in the wrong and deep in wrong.
Living in the wrong,
and done for, yes done for.
When you come to a recitation of your crimes
and your shortcomings and goings,
up and around when you were able,
there's the long list, your short shrift,
your deeds to your fellow man,
and how could you?
and can't be undone, what's dun is dung,
so wring out the old
and rung by rung climb out of it
and come to yourself,
and show a little forgiveness!
If you have not charity,
you have nothing to forgive yourself with,
so what to do?
This self accusing, self flailing person
was forever in arrears,
driving himself to work, to do his duty
and make restitution and pay off
and catch up with his fleeing self.
And bejesus, why was this masochrist
punishing himself, what had he done?
Surely he had paid enough,
had done enough time, and more,
and wasted enough time long enough,
so why not let him off awhile,
why not relax?
Give him a white pill and send him away
to compose himself for sleep.
The moment he closed his eyes he began to see things and
to follow them with painful intent and to dance away in a
saint vitus dance, dreaming himself into wakefulness, though
his eyes were closed and the lids down, and the blinds down
and all darkness.
It was rather acute of him to observe how any fleck of light
became a living face, though a mere spark no bigger than a
glow worm, a mere mark or sign, as if he made them with
his eyes and his will and his strength in the dark; and what
do you suppose we actually caught him doing all by him-
self? He would take the old gun which stood in the corner;
with all his might he'd keep firing away, until he was las-
soed, thrown, and swung in the air at the end of his rope;
and he would whirl like a toreador winding up his long silk
sash; then he was twisting through a grinder or being sliced
up like a salami; it was an act of annihilation, making noth-
ing out of something, rubbing it out, grinding it up, explod-
ing it, flinging it to the winds, hurling it into space, and in
the end somehow flying, dying into sleep.
I dreamed about it all night, I had a bad time being dreamed
through by this terrible dream, it was really awful.
For instance, one of the girls noticed you holding your hurt-
ing right hand, and you thought or said something witty about
the weather and your rheumatism, your arth rightis handis
The gas station man had knotted hands, like a leper or an
amputee ; they were purple in the frozen air; he couldn't
turn the screwcap of the tank in your car. (He died that
Well anyway it hurt something awful j he took a close look
at his hand, and give you the back of me hand for being
such a nosy, such a snooping, never mind! I could hardly
make out the small scar, and of course it could mean almost
anything, each thing more dreadful than the other ; the al-
most invisible white scar, healed into a seal, sealed to silence.
There was just me with this paining hand, on account of an
old wound and the weather.
In the crowd, on the grandstand, on a bench in the park,
this here girl said something, a word of advice I think, with
reference to my painful hand; we'll have to censor this no
doubt; it seems to go way back, when on my way to school
I squeezed my arm through the wayside picket fence, and
couldn't pull my arm free, and wouldn't let go the flowers.
And then of course, the ticket window on the elevated, and
the kids sneaking by, and the ticket chopper, he saw them,
and caught my eye as I was passing through, out into the
park, to wait for the northbound train, where I took a plush
seat with a high back.
It was night time and too dark to see
Flora's golden head, her nest of honey hair
brushed hard and braided tight ;
you didn't look
but in a tearful way you knew her to be there,
and felt her there, your heart complaining.
And then too your briefcase,
you had left it on the shadowed lawn
under the stars, behind the tall iron gate.
The spaced, paced music pulsing bar by bar,
like a faraway, marching heart,
a solemn breathing, from beat to beat,
drummed itself out of itself,
trembled itself out
through the leaves of the trees
on the concert lawn in the park.
It all came from this painful golden arm,
it went back to this stretch of pain,
to where I left my brief case on the ground
and went over to call Flora,
over there in the crowd,
and it was like being on the train,
still on the move, looking for Flora,
here she is, over this way.
I was trying to tell her
what happened to where
right here I think, right where
there was no hide nor hair
of my cowhide briefcase
I looked high and low, in the aisle and on the benches, and
under the seat in the train, on the floor and in the grass on
the lawn. Nothing doing, no brief case, and I would kill
myself, yes, if I couldn't, if it wasn't, and so I would, and
that was what I would have to do, now there was nothing
to do but that, the only thing to do, and that was that, I
knew it, and I knew it all along, the thing to do. That was
what I had been looking for: to tell Flora, and in fact that
was what I was telling her, though she was not listening.
I was breathing
that pulsing, beating
burden of my music, my woe,
and sobbing it out in time,
sobbing myself away,
it was a dream, and my brief case,
let's see, my leather brief case was not really lost
and actually it was where was it?
where in the dawn haze
in where were we?
And sure enough there it was,
with my testament inside,
the paper grayed over by the wooly whorls
of my golden, invisible hand.
My rolling hand,
my gambling hand that rolled out
my words of chance, read'em and weep.
1 counted the words,
a dime a dozen,
or a penny a hundred, or give them away,
or find a taker, if you could,
a junken driver to pick'em up,
for what? what were they for?
My psychic hand,
my knowing hand is in pain,
and doesn't want to;
the moving hand that writes on the wall
has changed its mind
and won't go on,
a painful choice,
and hurts me more than you.
1. Maxwell Mamser: Down He Went
A cardiac case was brought in, a big one, thrashing on the
stretcher, and heaved and struggled for air.
("Ein lebediger!" Suchie would cry, "ein zappeldiger!" in
praise of her fish, fresh from the market, revived in the
wash tub, in the blue crystal water, the wide-awake, water-
bright carp, in a gracious turnabout, a sweep of the tail and
a stately tour of the tub.)
As clear-cold as the jellied fish transparent on the table
dish, an icy-hearted matter of cozy hospitality.
Back to your habby taddy youth, your poolroom days, your
cool green fields, back to the black pool with you!
All over and done with and done for, and all one, and all
the same to me, and I refer of course to that New Year's
Eve, to skeletons and fishbone specimens, laid out on the
porcelain platter, the fine linen and the silver and the
sterling character of the fish lying there in profile like an
illustration in Alice, undersea by the beaootiful soup, simply
And I knew it, I knew we'd touch on that party again, we
aren't through with it, it will surface and surprise us, all
aboard! upsy-daysy! on our feet again, and cold sober.
And cold to the day, all warm inside and cozy, with the
chill running over your skin, a delicious surface shiver.
Swing, Porgy, sing of dear little fishes, a seaborn morning,
a barefoot saint, sassy little birds on his fingers and in his
And a dead fish in a slum, alleyoop ! a heave and a struggle
for air in the alley, the kingpin, they knocked him down.
He had a cold fish eye on occasion, saint though he was,
and immortal, he should live so long.
As if through a glassy aquarium wall,
or the seasick bedside air,
I see the East Side, shoreward heaving,
and then the stormy isle becalmed
and the hospital cot where he lay,
the man who was killed,
who was stabbed in the back
by a friend, a literary party,
and the party line, hook and sinker,
the dinky tinker.
Down he went
in a stink by the slimy curb
in the dark of the narrows
in the alley where he sank
and went under.
He lay on the cracked floor where he fell
and shuddered and choked,
the white moby, the dicky white
white man, Macmanx the cat walker
From the South, from the deep deep,
for a real cat was he, he was,
and that he was, from all the way back,
from the wide, wide
wake, the big fish story
of the giant fibbibia, tales of the ailing South,
the raging Souwouth is where he was from,
Saint of the lees of the south'n blooze,
a boozer, a whoosier from Natchez,
a cheesy character if all were told.
the nine or the twelve, how many were they,
followed him around, on a sabbatical
from a small university town
to do a thesis
on the tale of this torn in a tub.
Rubba hubba, they rubbed him out,
and so he made the headlines all over page one,
and fame was his at last,
at the kill, when they closed in,
such a mess it turned out,
sordid and grimy and frayed
from the very beginning.
It was a natural thing
and the dawn found them
in the barnyard in all that grayness,
in such a low estate.
If you could see the bedroom where his little boy
sat on a cot and cried and brooded.
Now don't you go around tearing at people's hearts,
pulling strings, jerking tears, snatching purses,
and sleeping it off in a yard,
don't you go around
by gutted lights in hallrooms, by back doors
and ginmills, and every dark and dirty corner.
(A pause for identification,
and for a commercial if we had one,
if we had a sponsor
or could if we tried ; and how we tried!
for an entire life, for a long career of care,
and wound up in the clink.)
What good were we anyway,
what were we good for, and who were we for,
and who were you for?
For a lost cause,
though from his effects
there was little to show for it 5
yet the world was coming round
to a biography of the man,
to honor that fond maniac's conceit
and what am I doing here
in the midst of posterity?
The bell rang,
and out in the hallway a bevy of men
of my race and time.
Into my funeral parlor, said the fly,
come in, gentlemen!
They wanted to be in the act, to touch him,
the Kilroy who never was here,
though they could swear to the facts,
witnesses every one,
so they came to the home of this guy
who had known him when young
and green and cold.
It was out there, with no steam in the pipes,
in the coldwater flats, like low tide
in Seagate, where the rocks and the gulls
gave you the shivers.
And why I should dwell on that
or in such a place, I don't know 5
a matter of where you found yourself
and that's where I find myself, and willynilly
go on from there to wherever I happen
to find myself, if you know what I mean,
and keep going, getting along as always,
getting along, never better!
2. Myrtle, A Mourner
Poor Myrtle at the funeral service:
the seated women looking at Myrtle,
a handkerchief overflowing from a tight hand,
her spent smile, a nod now and then,
and an answering nod,
fragile in her tears, a gentle mourner,
in mourning she was best,
and all was best, and for the best.
And I thought of that word again: decorum,
and interior decoration.
I put it to you, as if you were on trial:
for a trial it was to attend,
and come you must, you were tried and true
and faithful, and strange, among the mourners.
They came and went, and paid their mite
to the dark widow in her gown of darkness.
Strange as it seemed, you were there,
doubtless you would be an odd sight
to a painter of another age,
as you sat in the straight-backed chair,
a character in silhouette,
hardened into Assyrian sandstone.
In that sanctum of mortality,
all surface to the artist's eye,
an image, an unuttered sound,
a name, a numeral, as he rendered you
and made you, a cryptic, pigmented form,
a limn of satin,
a seated sarcoph, a Gus
in a time and place
and in black and white
In the mourning ritual, in the formal,
pale antique etch,
in square cut marble.
A myth, known to all,
a child's ditty, a grandmother's tale,
handed down word by word,
and found again, reduced
to a stamp, or a doll in a store,
dear lore, to a sound.
And I insist, it was odd,
and a subject for thought:
how he sat there, a stranger in paradise,
now in his later years concerned
with how they were, and how it felt
to be one of the persons in the play,
a character, a light, and a shade, and a cast.
And not so bad after all,
not quite like those other funerals,
which had been so difficult
and blinding and hard on the eyes.
3. Bill Hall, In The Thirties
And as sad, as odd as Bill Hall when he humbly described
a man on the left as "a very advanced thinker."
A Harvard man, misty prints on his office wall, matted with
a double line of marginal gold, his heirloom glass-top table,
and his house on the lordly Hudson, his black Homburg
hat, and all that, and a genial man for all that.
He passed away before his time, and you hardly ever see
his kind around any more: the last of his line, that gener-
ous breed, the good Teddies and Bruins.
(The lovely old past, it didn't last.)
They left it all to the nephews and nieces, scattered to the
godless winds of the night life era, and now they're history;
they were goners from the start, and lost their lust and
tossed their last.
4. Mr. Hink
Old Mr. Hink would drop in and hang around and notice
that everybody was so polite, afraid to hint that they were
busy and he was wasting their time, and why didn't he go
about his business, or at least mind his own business, start
a new line if necessary, or go home.
He had a mottled old head and a nauseous smile as he bent
to elicit your attention to some little thing out of the past.
And you felt a distaste toward something already over, with
only a little while more to linger around, and it would be
nice if he could go away and not hang around and really it
would be nicer all around if he stayed away.
You were a blumbee,
a busy being,
a husbuzz, a bumbelly,
a hasbum bo, you he?
a had a wife, a couldn't keeper,
your womy's pamby peeper.
Was you belittled and mediochre
in the shadow,
and held a candle to a mandle,
a mondial Mendel, a fondy,
a ponderous, porous little mondikin
with a wiff and kipper?
A doodidn't wonder!
wasn't it you who couldn't,
and the man I took you for?
Wasn't there a mistake
about his credentials and beliefs,
and where he said he was from,
and who by, and who for?
A gorgon angel, an angry panzer,
a jesu, a juive, a jiminy chrisman,
a lady's man, with birds in his family tree
Is what he was, sure enough,
in a personal appearance, in a presence,
presenting arms, standing at attention,
and sitting at attention,
and lying down, to close his eyes.
"Oi, kop, kop!" in comic despair,
an address to his head, to headship in totem,
to the head of his state, to the condition
of his personal "head" (in quotes like a wreath)
as though to admonish, and shake his head,
and noddle his head.
His gorge would rise,
he would stalk and glare
and glaze as he ast himself:
"Izth at oo yougoo,
is at, am dat voos avoos, viz a viz?"
as he knew himsylph by sight,
his elfish, philosophical soph,
his bitter old annual self.
A ganzer tanzer! a heisser genosseh!
verstehst du mir, weisst du voss?
y'know what? see what I mean?
and it dawns on me
at datsa wotsa matta wit me, ahm nuts!
ahm a nut, honest,
no kidding, a nut, an honest nut,
and a fool there was,
at sea, on an ocean, a heaven of prayer,
in every shape of manna and foam.
In Mott Heavenue,
a macher, yeh, yeh,
a mackerel, a little character
what smelled from heaven,
from heavenly descent
and came down a peg or two ;
a ganif, a pegler, a cute villain,
a devil was he,
and a mankey would be,
a mankind monkeyshined moneykin,
a little dollink.
TO COME TO LIGHT
1. What If So?
If ever you turned up in those same haunts,
the old manse would be quite changed,
among the thickets of wild roses,
the thorny clusters and braided vines,
and if you should recall those ways,
if you should enter once again,
once, if only once,
like the invisible man
in the cloister, the inviolable place,
and dared, though such entering were a crime,
expiated by imprisonment,
and were locked away,
a prisoner asleep on his cot,
a small barred window high out of reach,
where he might never see
another bit of blue,
a little wilde cloud,
melting in a dark sea,
a lock on the iron door,
a canary in a cage,
a life for a life? He was in for life,
for his sin, which was life,
for life is a sin,
(and sinning, that's rife)
and that's what he was in for.
In for it!
A prisoner in an iron mask,
a fine piece of the ironwright's craft,
with a slit for an eye;
around his neck a golden locket and chain,
a daisy chain,
for he was a martyr in his way,
bound and wound up in her hair,
and in the sun's halo around her hair.
And what if it were so!
What if we were concerned
with his conviction, and his liberation,
and his awakening,
his need, and his way of seeing how it was,
how it changed, and what came of it,
and what became of them,
and what would become of us?
And what if we regaled you
with all that went on and came about,
what if so,
how it was all transmuted and muted
and hidden from the eye
and never came to light?
What if words failed you,
those other words remaining unsaid
and never sent.
2. From The Potentaria
Steinach frigged up the froglegs with india ink, he was so
anxious for acclaim, and what good was it, a forgery, a
documentary poof, so he blew his brains out.
The doctor wiggled those tubes up my nostrils, and blew
out my ego, and robbed me of my self, and sent me out
empty and windy with my bats in my belfry, dizzy on the
sidewalk, suspecting I had been screwed. Hate! Bitter hate!
a curse in my heart for that villainous doctor and all his
kind, what ego, what self, what soul! fin du siecle and end
it all, back against the wall, and back to the soil, a dirty
business if you ask me.
Fact! the ring of the truth
in my native land, in the morning paper,
to keep in touch, and follow the horses,
and there you have me, brother;
it's my old eye trouble,
trouble with my old eyes,
with their leaden weight,
loaded with treble troubles,
you feel your ringed eyeballs in your head,
and close your eyes.
His pained brow wears no crown, no leaf, no thorn,
but the mere weight of his years.
So do not ask too much of him,
no miracles, in this age of miracles,
he couldn't perform a single one,
not one could he do.
He is tired,
a ward of the A.S.P.C.A.,
the kindly souls who find you
when you fall by the wayside,
and close your eyes
by the wayside,
as darkness comes over you,
and the devil take you,
or the department of sanitation.
From the solarium you have an all round view
of the roofs, the streets of parked cars
cradling the city dust as the snow hardens
to a darkening crust
strained from the city air.
And there he lives out his years.
The caller at the door will find him
in that age,
after 2 P. M., and evening hours,
among those portents
and sticks and stones.
It was in that race, that maze,
that past vast and present place
marked by tombs and flags,
signals and flashing signs and flying shadows,
and thunder on wings, and wings on thunder,
from the towers, and from behind the scenes,
that he would come, and stand in sight,
break from the shadow wall,
to turn back and walk off down the way,
to be enfolded in absence,
back in the totality,
in the crux of the lux
of the unknown nature of things.
So too it would arrive:
the phone call in a strange voice,
though in words human and familiar,
from the potbrew, the potentaria,
the swamp of the unexplored,
the boundless outer West
which draws the very souls
of the youngsters at play,
and where they will fly in time.
3. If I Could
Locked away and buried, out of reach
in the world's recesses,
in camera, in a damp house,
in a secret drawer,
unsafe in the safe,
in the darkness of the race.
You can't get at it, you'll go mad trying to squeeze in and
reach to the shelf; can you tear yourself away from this
tight, frightened breast? The chest is jammed, the cabinets
are bursting with the files and the piles, like those two
brothers cornered in the upper story, where they tunnelled
around for this and that, according to their need, circum-
scribed as they were, crowded in (two's a crowd), and passed
out among their things, their effects apparent to the world.
The secret was out, out for an airing, a hearing before the
In the copy of a copy, a print, a funnysheet, such as you
spread out to read, a square page at a time, over the gleam-
ing kitchen floor.
With a snap like a flag, a fresh new laundered sheet floats
through the air and settles down, like a map, a countryside,
a vast plain under your wing.
It didn't seem right,
out of mind, out of sight,
the ghost had flown,
the something had flown and gone,
couldn't remember what,
for it left no trail, no clue,
not a scent's worth, not a penny left:
rolled off into a crack in the floor.
It would be found after the fire,
in the burning away of the burning hour,
the flaming away
of the fleeing and the fleeting.
The hulls that burned
on the glassy sunset sea,
in the boreal aura
of the roaring, warring sea.
Of the fiery cast
of all thou hast of the past.
If the past could say a few words,
if I could but speak into the ether,
if under ether, or in the oven fumes,
if I could catch my breath
at a fainting glory,
a man aflame
If in a song,
in a flamingo tongue,
I could call out,
as if I knew the way
and had my way and sang
and said a few words
On any occasion,
if I were a Whitehead
with a thought in my hoary head,
in the poor, dumb, browbeat dome,
the silver threads showing,
the gusty december hairs
of his honored head,
his lowly ole granpaw haid.
A good head and a sound head,
a honey-buzzed, arrowing bonehead,
headed for the boneyard
where I picked up the skull of a horse,
the hollow eyed, saw tooth jawbane
of Mister Ichthyosorrio,
an immigrant farmer who had gone West,
a young man in a checkered vest,
and all for the best.
Yes, a bit of the Whitehead in him,
a patriarchal streak, lost in the thought
of the ages,
a stone man, a sage from the brush,
a bushman of the plains
and trackless past.
Came into the world
without a scrap or a stitch,
arrived penniless and whole,
empty handed and sound of limb,
and raring to go, but where, and what for?
I'll tell you what for and I'll give you what for,
and you'll know the reason why.
You'll know or you'll think you know.
(Something is bound to happen, though it won't amount to
a snick.) It started on Park Row where I got a job selling
subscriptions, Sunday papers, magazines, encyclopedias,
Don't you think it outrageous for a cracked, sacked, con-
ceited little grinner to go and print a collection, crammed
and jammed with the letters of his betters, and stick himself
right in the middle, and get away with it? But he did, and
he put his friends in too, here a friend and there a friend,
among the immortals! and me in there too, another one of
those, I suppose, a disgrace to his race to show his face
among the angels.
Another load for the archives, to index and choke up the
flues, good for the fire hazard.
Is it too much to ask? something real, a solid gold ring you
can hock any time, a little something, a blue diamond, a
girl's best friend? or a week-end pass, a holiday look around,
a word with the immortals, to take tea and break bread at
home, a roof over your head, with a noble kinsman's child
to talk to at least, and take a look at yourself!
Aren't you going to look at me even once, and not go off
without even a word, or shake hands?
And must it be so? for a man has a gift, as the snake his
fang, the jewel in his head, the guile in his hand, the
avenging, the caressing hand (with the retractable claw).
While beings of the field may sleep,
he must beat out his time
through those webs
of leaping spindles, throbbing looms,
a weaver and a griever.
The sage of old never heard
shuttles in Satanic mills,
nor was Plato concerned
with prisoner or slave.
4. A Worldly Man
Play ball ! The southpaw on the mound
joins his hands at his breast as if in prayer,
and then forward, a giant stride,
the invisible ball goes crack!
and history is made.
And that's the way I free my writing arm
and let myself go, a flying man,
a right-wing with a flashing blade.
A quiet, frowning little guy
when I chanced a look at him
while hanging around:
rather a dull one, I should say,
an unwilling witness if you ask me;
according to my lights he was a nobody,
I hardly knew him.
Time to play ball;
but he didn't show up on the lot,
by reason of out of season,
a lame arm and a bad eye ;
repaired to his study to think things through,
till the seasons and reasons had fled.
And willingly would he forego,
and gladly resign and consign
and give up if he could, and let go.
But he was strong, his heart beat steady,
and he tipped the scales at 170,
thirty pounds over his best fighting form.
And it's daylight again: the air brightens,
the world's face clears, the sun breaks through,
and I wonder where I've been.
And whether it were possible
to pass serenely in review
the ways of the mind:
how it started, how step by step,
from year to year, distracted as you were
by the world and the ways of the world,
you were the most worldly of men,
a man like young Russell
walking across the quadrangle,
stopped cold in the sudden light,
where it appeared that the old don dunce
and there really was an external world.
That's what happened to young Bert
and it lasted him the rest of his life.
5. A Silly Question
So we've settled down at last
on our bed of nails, our nettlenest,
our shirt of hairy breast,
my snake in my treasure in my chest,
in a breath, a sighing,
a lying in his heart and soul,
and on his back at last,
and come to rest.
Oh what a gee wot a way
to get you out of yourself,
to see yourself like thisthat.
Deal yourself out,
pass yourself out, a playbill
to tell the world.
If I had the speed of those new machines with their little
photons and neutrons electing and detecting, levelling things
out, and flying about, accomplishing unnoticed ends and
making history for scholars in a commotion over what the
hell had happened,
Who would trouble to read it all or decipher the message?
for it would be in code, and so the net result would be a
pretty kettle, and the critic would look upon all that brain
food with a fishy eye.
A disconcerting, a baffling
of the tird, fourt and fift law
of thermomimics: hot antics.
For all those hands playing different hands
would drive the experts mad,
the infinite reality copied out
with nothing added and none the wiser;
and what happened to all that expended energy?
where did it all go,
and what was the point of it all,
and who asked you,
and who is this answering?
The precise truth,
what Whitey, the old smart-head,
the smarty old marty, called it: a fake
Or more charitably, a mistake
of the errorists,
the merry old careerists
doing business with reality.
So what, so we keep right on,
doing what we're doing,
and all our discontent and all our strivings,
and all our books in all the nooks
are purely controversial,
and do not reflect
the entiments of this ation.
So who's responsible?
Ask a silly question.
6. Your Calling
Sib's son couldn't sleep,
couldn't make up his mind,
bewildered by Shelley and Jesus,
shorn, torn in the breeze.
I don't know what became of him,
(nor of any lamb born).
A tender cheeked child
with great big serious eyes,
her blond hair parted tight,
a ribbon braided in, ending in two bows
down the straight little bony shoulders.
Hug her a bit anxiously,
do not squeeze her too hard,
and set her down again
to run off out of sight.
The shaven-head priest
with rimless glasses and small, pursed mouth
talked so matter of fact, and I thought of the vows:
poverty, chastity, obedience;
these are the business men
of prayer and despair,
of birth and burial j
they look grief in the face,
worn by their tasks
to sublime care,
while I am merely tender hearted,
elderly, prone to tears, with a tremorous knee.
Yet I am in the same line;
mankind is my trade,
going up and down in the world.
(Hard though their road may be,
is it worse than joining the Navy,
with a Book and Key? )
Not like starting from scratch,
booted from home,
pursued across the border,
to learn another tongue
and the only trade you know,
and your calling:
You bird with only one call.
Elizabeth, our queenly maid, arrived early and broke into
my trance: she is one of those with whom I must contend
as I make my way, onward to my end which is: to shine.
(As if I were a Samuel Taylor, the thread of his imagina-
tion snapped right in the middle of his stitching, or twice-
orphaned Eddie Poe freezing in that clapboard shack.) So
it seems to be a tradition to be cut short by a stranger at
And all because I am vulnerable, a little man, and that old
theme of power, I thought I had disposed of it but, as you
see, we are now engaged in a war of civilians, a nation so
dedicated, and a world misconceived, fiddling away.
And what do you make of what I am saying?
8. A Change Of Self
As if I fell off my high horse and broke my neck and lay
there getting nowhere with all that reflexive activity, though
down to earth.
I can go no further into that, into all those glimpses in flight
while I was still going strong and going somewhere.
So goodbye, and let bygones, and go out and see what's left
of you, and how you'll get by as a left, if pointed out and
counted out as a left, on the extreme left.
Isn't it funny how you deviated, how you underwent a
change of heart and a change of self, and a change in your
body-mind problem and small change, a token coin like the
ticket they used to give you for a transfer on the Elevated.
I really think, if I had been
or a beautiful woman or a genius:
with just a little difference like that
in mind, or in money, or in sex,
or in background or in silhouette,
I might have made good,
might have gone over there as a Rhodes scholar
and conversed with Wittgenstein ;
but now it seems I'd have to start all over again,
that is, if I got another chance,
at least another lifetime, to start from scratch
and scratch my way to somewhere
to a place in the world and a notion
of the ways of things.
9. An Old Hand
Neither vanished nor absent, but altered
into relic and fable,
into gnarled rock underfoot,
the scarred, veined wall,
and starry stones in the sky
Or those paintings like weathered tapestries:
you must remember how they were made,
each committed, each conceiving,
by the chain of birth,
by act and by flight.
The flying brush scanned the field
like the reach of a blind man,
felt its way from space to space
that smiled back to his dreaming eye,
at the touch of an old hand.
And yet I was not ready
to buy it and hang it in my room,
for I was ignorant,
something of a fraud, you know,
and so anxious to please.
However, with a hard core of doubt,
a saving grace, a capacity for recovery,
for taking counsel,
so somehow in the end he came to his senses,
though he harbored a fool in his heart,
a viper and a forked fang,
master of the double tongue
und ein puster kopf, a cracked nut.
So you see how it was with the critics
and works of earth and girth and mirth
and weight, and never get it straight,
for this tranquil weave
was not as simple as that.
Though lost, and the vain search
no longer in your thought,
now somehow you had called them up
and played them out of yourself,
from your sleeping box of colors:
your odds and ends of night and sight,
your flying brush in your golden right hand,
as you flew like the flying red horse,
as you struck it and made light of it,
your painful, your aching, your powerful right arm
making signs in the air.
IN THE WRONG
1. Mr. Rune
What are you looking for with your gaga counter?
how does it add up, and what do you find?
I find a Mr. Rune,
the philosopher who had saint vitus dance,
fighting fire with fire, the marxian martian,
the oxonian Max, historic and toric
and glassy eyed with conviction.
A survivor of a stretch in Siberia,
with the silver foxes, the minks and lynx,
for he was a linker, a leftwinger with a good arm,
and a foul logician,
beleaguered to right of him, none to left of him,
and a taxic tic in his limb;
a never resting intellect,
a constant ticktacker at heart,
a ticklish questioner,
a mindreader in dread and shaking all his life
in fear of apprehension, of being taken.
A murksian out of the dark reaches
of the curtained gypsy past
and the foreign cities
of the many colored map
of boundaries and frontiers and bright lit regions,
legions and lexicons, excelsior!
sent packing, a man of straw,
a man of sawdust and Stardust
and motes in the eye.
A man of words and essays
and a scorched taste
of assaults and escapes,
attacked the romantics,
ruined by the realists, exiled to America,
to eke out his nights
in controversy with scholarly friends,
to meet in song, and stay strong
and scheme with the capitalists,
in a counter thesis, and a bore
within, the worm within,
eaten up with envy and idealism
for a utopsian, attilian world,
to each according,
and from each all he had,
of the iterians, the wanderers on the face,
the welded, chained, broken to the wheel,
and a new wild, in the dialect of the old.
A little band, forged in the fire,
with a fake passport, in the true tradition!
You see what happens
in a turn of the century,
my word! a verbolution!
a government by the word
and of the word and for the word,
2. Gull's Gallery
And that was another, a nodder,
a niddle in their noodles,
in their alphabet soup, their abc's
their abacusses, their ways of swearing
and counting and addling up
in their pates, their paternal heads,
in their fatherly ways and means,
and shapes and manners
when singly, in unison and in chorus,
in a common spell, and in all sincerity,
they hanged a thought, and knew not what.
That evening in the Gull Gallery:
heaven spare us,
a discussion group? an art group? a society?
a gallery, a gullery, a scalleywaggery,
really a laugh, really it's funny.
And I stayed just long enough
to muck a full of muself
And disposed of them one at a time
and in pairs, and in little groups, harangued them
singly and severally, come one, come all,
for they were no match
for a nasty old, tough old manigram
fallen out of the blue.
And the high point of the evening:
you rascal you, you old adman! oh you!
by the young thing she was,
with wide awake, midnight eyes
looking right at him.
Caught his breath, and swallowed once,
and stood calmly looking back at her
as he kept his mind on what he was saying.
She came over, with the tall youth at her side,
her eyes and smile deepening,
how straight she stood,
a proud, high breasted child.
Careful now, do not frighten her away,
as she confesses in her singing voice
fresh as grape on the vine,
that it did not seem fair to criticize
without really understanding
what the Unity of Opposites
had done for them!
for, thanks to Mr. Gull, they saw
oh, so much more in a Work of Art.
As her eyes grew nearer and deeper still,
as she decided on defiance
and let her anger show, and turned away,
and out the door with her young man.
How it delighted him! the last word,
the parting taunt, the dazzling head held high.
Had a lovely chat, and
pearls before girls.
Here was an old genius
with a pocketful of gems,
and the funny thing was,
they couldn't believe it.
Hell, he was wearing his good suit,
and they were real stones,
every one an imie;
and the dear little, cute little things
were afraid to take them;
"A man just doesn't go around
handing out millions."
It shouldn't deceive you, it was not serious,
no need to play it big, but it takes some doing,
just for the record, you see, just to get it in,
and to notice, of course, is an act of discernment.
And a task it is, wearing out my notions,
writing on the wall,
for the poster men to wipe off
as they come on the run.
They had pinned up a creed
like the sign on the church down the street,
and how shocked they were when I laughed
to think of Durer in such a game
with Saint Sebastian;
unlike the speaker of the evening,
he had never heard of Hegel ;
really, such goings on!
confessing to the very same
Unity of Opposites, the selfsame moth
from their master's head
on those apples of Cezanne,
bewitched to see that bat
on every wall.
In this day and age
of means and ends
for an ample and goodly life,
he picks up this here thing
and he lives by this conceit,
and from this he makes a living?
A swindle if I ever saw one.
Another myster shyster messiah,
a liar, an elfish, selfish frawd, dear lawd,
another praying bawd
of the intellelect,
the crafty and arty,
the worst of the West,
bent on destruction,
a bad end,
and a crying shame.
3 . Andy Carl
There was also Andy Carl, one day in Chicago,
that sandy head with a corn muffin
stuck in his throat and a foggy, foggy,
dewy eye in his square head,
when I was a brave lad, sick at heart,
and lost my voice in the Windy City,
where I met the man,
and he knocked me down with a blow on the head.
A disservice to his time,
for I shall remain a witness
of such uncouth behavior
where least expected,
and most disconcerting,
a tasteless thing to mention,
with a thick tongue.
4. Emanuel Lusch
And so we come round to Emanuel Lusch, a one-time
author and a two-time loser, and this was his pen name; a
penal penman he, forged his own name, his right name
unknown, inscribed his autograph on a confession to penury,
and swore he only made $265,000 a year handling smutty
tales by the point of his dead pan; gold pin-money from
penagraphy by dirty words snicked through the You & Us
A big broker in the ex business, in the undyworl from the
universal assion for exual atisaction, and axed fat on uvenal
elinquency in the four letter ategory of the unglish anguish.
And I see by the morning paper he got five years; this bale-
ful ace was remanded to jail to ail away five of his relent-
less years behind the iron ars of his ell.
An at's what appens when you efy the orals of annkind an
teufle with the ender ex.
And so this good neighbor is back where he belongs, hehe!
to pursue his literary career in peace and quiet for a good
long stretch on his cot, and rot away at his ease at the
people's expense and to the grief of his wife and unto the
third grandchild, for he had passed his threescore years, a
man of presence, and now absent and doesn't answer.
As one of the girls remarked: "Isn't he attractive though!"
"I like young girls," he said, "and Wednesdays are my
night for Roseland." His brows arched, his mirthless eyes
When I came in last night, our little old doorman Frank,
slightly atremble, bent toward me with a skinny hand in
the air and broke the news: "Five Years!" he cried, bowed
over with glee, and through the elevator door as I began to
ascend: "Five years!" And sure enough, there it was in the
headline: "Sentenced, Bail Denied."
And my folksy next door neighbor archly wondered: "Do
you think our convict friend will be expecting visitors?" and
then: "Why not a house warming in his new quarters, in
honor of his retirement as an elder and friend of the court?"
So I allowed myself a spiteful sneer at this keeper's brother,
this fellowmine felon, trapped and stripped, more sinned
against, a selfspect reject, a crummy incorrigible beyond
cant, an old undoer, an underhandy breaker and unmaker,
who paid off the wages of sin wherever he went, and gave
off an odor of inkwitty, a falsifier and a stainer of the first
water, an adulterer ; he preyed on the nasty little innocents
who dabbled in hide and secret wishes and he turned it into
A well read panderer to the lonely philanderer, with quotes
for bait, couched in sophistical daring and challenge, who
pushed the classics like cuts of canned fish to smuggle his
stuff through the mails.
A peddler of dreams, nightmares for lonelihearts, despair-
ing fevers, a free cynic with a mission to young and old:
Unheard-of bargains in sex, to confound the hypocrites, as-
tonish the guilty, and lay them low at the lowest rates for
art for art's sex, for madmen and maids, and mailed to you
in a plain wrapper.
5 . Hyman Eliot
A yacky New Yorker whacks away at a million words about
a certain mute, an inarticulate victim of law and order and
the captain's word as a gentleman, a cowardly chief relieved
of his command by a dirty trick.
Imagine such a man, born barred and crossed, under a yel-
low star, a narrow chested Hamlet from a small town where
the poor in the synagogue were sworn and forsworn and
betrayed to poverty and the cultivation of the hintellect.
This pilgrim of the East Side, this tainted boy was dark-
ened by a prayer shawl ; the phylacteral was not prophylac-
tic; he was infected by the holy water where his fathers,
with the sign of the crossing, had sacrificed and signed him
and declared him.
And so here in Amerika, far from draim, from the aime-
land, the emisher true home of the heavy heart of the sailor
boy, the good boy in a sailor cap with a black ribbon that
comes to two points like the tail of an arrow, went searching
for a faith, and that's how he became a born writer and a
And what the heck, he made a million dollars out of that
Consider it: another heavenly father from the old country,
with a starry-eyed broad in a bedroom scene, and another
He claimed he was fed up with Columbia and Broadway,
but as for himself, would you say he was an Eastside Eliot,
a tassled, black gowned child of the church ?
Is it right to give a life daily from nine to five, with time
out for lunch, to bring such a thing into the world? Is this
what happens to a man in our time? And should we bring
him up on charges?
Well then, see what you can do to clear up this matter for
the record; take a hundred thousand words to void it if you
can, stamp it in the void. And do it free, for freedom's sake,
for nothing, for a song.
When Hyman puts on a skullcap and prays in a public
place, like a nudist, a vegetarian, a fakir on a bed of nails,
with a hand out and a tin cup, or a girl letting her hair
grow back, or an ex-Red on the stand, it could be anything,
it could be understandable and forgiveable, a defense against
But you could not call him a philosopher, nor say that he
knew what he was doing, nor that it was a free choice, but
rather a return to what was easiest to endure.
When the oracle is reduced
to a fearful child,
we are embarrassed.
1. Hello, Ed
The bell rang,
you threw an old bathrobe over your nakedness
and good morrow America, come right in,
make yourself at home
while I clear away the Sunday papers
yes, this is how we live, a hobby of mine:
to lib and ad lib and yearn a ribbing.
We always start by saying: well, Ed,
and so, well Ed, this is where I sit
with my flexible pen,
why don't you try it sometime.
The camera brings you to a close up,
as Ed glances at his wrist,
and it beats all how the camera tells all,
and gives you away.
When you break in like that,
it's whatever you find around,
and the way you look at it
as you bear on it, as you come up
and you see how it is:
how a man comes to grief.
And here is my hobby, my souvenir,
my profile, and my advice to you all,
and thank you, Ed, and goodbye,
and now back to New York and our next.
We can't stop to explain,
there's so much narrative around,
such traffic in plots and plans
and shined old kettledrums,
swarming with tragedy and comedy,
with life and death, wherever you turn,
from corner to corner and door to door,
so go peddle your stories.
The night clubs, the theatres jammed,
and the funeral parlors jammed,
the apartments all rented,
and the papers full of sales and stories.
Like the old man darkening,
the solemn disappearance
of old Ed Edipus, who went down,
withdrew and turned away,
and talked less and less English,
and more and more in the mother tongue.
One of these days, when you've lost your job
and have all the time in the world,
go and pay your respects to the old man,
think what it will mean to him
to see you again; hello, Ed.
How are you my boy,
tell me about yourself,
let's have a look at you,
eye to eye, and a heart to heart talk,
for a couple minutes, for time is short
and you know what it costs.
Ben, bless him, brings me
a bottle of schnapps when he comes,
ah yes, I was lying down,
reading my Spinoza, when you happened in,
this is how I spend my reclining years,
with my nose in my Spinoza,
from day to day, to evensong
and the vesper hour and the Angelus
with head bowed, hands clasped
and feet in the furrow,
thank you, Ed,
come again, Mr. Murrow.
And have you noticed, he looks a little like Lincoln,
the overhanging brows, the triple-lined forehead,
the clefts from the wings of the nose,
and how he saddens back from his quick smile,
say goodbye and thanks Ed.
Ed came through fine and in focus,
because you see he was deeply felt,
and I wish he would stop smoking
and take care of himself.
And who else, let's see,
who else is deeply felt around here?
who's next? who wants to come through
and be heard and seen? Here's your chance
to be loved for yourself alone,
and for what you are and what you own,
so come forward
and state your name and aim and dark intent,
and what you know: take any question.
Well, there was the question of the darkness,
which puzzled me as a philosophical boy,
when they said that light was imaginary,
like the silence of the radio waves,
which make so sound or sense
but to a living ear.
That used to bother me a lot,
and after all, after two thousand years,
why should an unread child of the age
know how many ways they had figured it,
and now he didn't care so much,
and besides, he was tired.
And there was the question,
how he managed,
how he had behaved under fire,
how far he had gone,
and his stature, how had he stood?
There again, another story.
Never mind, he said, glad to see you,
and how are things with you?
but you could see he was tired, it was time
for a cup of strong tea (if he could take tea)
and you looked concerned.
They break into a man's privacy,
come right in and catch him unawares,
in a moment of weakness
just when the T. V. is on.
The whole world looked in on him,
caught in the light just as he was,
with the darkness showing.
Humiliating, on the verge of tears,
and yield to crying like a child,
weep and you weep alone
but not when the T. V. is going full blast
and drowning out your tears with a song and dance
and a dream of fair women, all the lovelies in the world
dancing round you, and catching you unawares,
catching you by the hand, with a catch in the throat,
to cajole you, console you,
houri in fancy pants, and join the dance
and ring around and rosy, red cheeked and flushed,
an old man again and in love again,
and rockabye back to your sweet old self, poor darling,
you old rascal you.
And so awoke to the truth and the sorry sight,
and knew what it was to take charity,
to beg, and to charge for your tears,
to be in society,
a well known beggar, caught by surprise, and seen
marrying for the third or fourth time,
a real old harem turk, a sinner,
exactly what he was, and tired, tired of it all,
tired of weeping and tired of being seen,
and of seeming,
caught full of years,
looked at, seriously observed
and compassionately regarded.
A plain old man gone off,
and a little fanciful in his wandering,
and quite beside himself,
to see himself in such a pass:
judged, before the court,
to pay again and again and in full
for mercy j pity his grayness,
and take him home and put him to bed
and do not tire him out with all that nonsense,
for he won't answer, he just won't listen,
the stubborn old thing
won't talk, and as a matter of fact,
what do you think, when I put my ear to his chest,
what do you think he grumbled and rumbled at me,
the minute he knew he had my ear
on his white old breast?
the old salt up and gave me a smile, a real smile,
and, so long Ed, he said,
goodbye, Ed, and good luck.
2. In The Act
In many a daisy days ago,
in the sweet long ago,
she stood in the chorus line
in her undies and furs,
and the girls in twirls
kinked a knee,
hipped and sang that ditty,
as Groucho twitched his great big eyebrow,
and his deep contralto rang out across the snow
as he sidled and bridled and tipped his big segar
and sneaked up to Mary.
And in a twink she covered up
in her mink, cool and cute,
with her dimple and her girlish cheek,
singing of daddy in Texas.
Never knew her, never met
under the moon in my room,
with an arrow in my white
in my ruined, conquered heart,
my wounded doe, sprung in mein hart,
my dead venison self, a deep Southern gent
of true intent.
Showed her teeth, and exit in the wings,
and back in thirty years, to take a bow
to the crash of brass and drum,
to the swelling organ note and blossoming tune,
as little Saint Joan in all those tales
bandied about in Doodywood,
on the highway and on the dune
and in the fields of clover and over.
Quick change, and there she was,
as little Peewee, what a player!
what a Peterpan!
what a woman in a boy!
and she knew how, bless her cute little
elfin heart, the little tart, and what a head
for show business.
Under the lights they made her up
and thrust her out in the cold,
and there she sang:
All Alone in The Arctic Zone
In the new ice age, the era of freezers,
heaven preserved us
from the hot and the cold
spared us and saved us and kept us fresh,
T. V. was our society,
our heaven and our salivation.
What a dish
on the Wish Parade,
may all your wishes, dreaming
of a white Christmas,
may all your chrismisses,
may all your mistresses
and black and tan
a trouper, yessir, she was a whooper,
and she lifted up men's
though she'd never play Shakespeare
for, by the curse on his tomb,
the girls' parts
were not played by girls,
in their hoods and robes, in their dainties,
in their ice cream parlors,
in their infernos
in the night airs,
with indrawn breath, fluttering
She couldn't play the queen, for she was not a boy,
not a literary, homogeny, maledictory boy,
but a girl, a mere unpractised little slit
with her smooth, white, longleggy prance
a bee-winged honey, a sprite, a melting doll,
and sugar and everything nice.
He never got over her,
deprived of his passion, and went about
without passion, and in very poor taste,
and never tried out for a role,
never auditioned, and never showed,
for he was scratched, and
according to the accounts of the trial,
The poisoned ear,
the kingly ear deafened by death,
destined to die by ear,
by the whisper of the kingly fate,
to lose a throne
in pentameter, fetch me a mirror,
as it all came out
in the royal dance.
They paired off to tread the measure
and the meaning of it all,
and hold up a mirror and speak into it
the immortal lines of the beard
through the teeth
and the resonant nasal sinus,
through the halls of the mind,
through the skull of the evil mind,
of heaven's duality, the male and female,
the destined fall, how a mime
could tower like that, descend the stair
like Isadora to the Funeral March,
to the thunder of that immortal,
who married a mannish woman,
in a dark cloak and dagger day
on the theatrical set,
in a love seat elegantly carved,
to the trembling of the same theme,
to the roaring pit,
applause and laughter.
So you see what a girl can do to a man,
when Mary Martin clings or wings into song,
and that was what they wanted,
to prove that this showgirl could act,
could cry, could die, knocked about like a star,
flying and falling and like all falling things
spinning closer, ever closer, twined and held
in the earthward sigh
to be near, come here, and here lie.
3. Danny Does It
When our Danny does it,
he hurries in, a split second late,
he would have to split that second,
so hold your breath, see if he does it,
if he rides that high cycle with one hand.
A mere lad with bony knees
and empty pockets, and nothing up his sleeve,
nothing but his stringy, pastry-white arm,
comes out with a half a laugh
better than no laugh or a loafer without a laugh,
with his wide ears and that clownish color,
flew in on a bike and can't stop,
and he was high, you'd say,
the starlike fever in his eye.
Our kaygay Dannybird, the king of storks,
wings out in a high step
and you know him instantly as your long lost boy,
your crazy wandering boyblue, come blow, come back,
you bigboy of royal bloody hue.
That frostbitten flush, the bigboned face,
the bright nose and rocky brows,
a tousled redhead, a fighting irish,
in his shirt without a tie,
and what do you think of my boy up there
before the footlights all alone
on the brink of the stage,
and what do you think of him now?
Now you see him now you don't,
there he stands, stopped cold
on the outer edge of the world,
the mere ocean of eyes,
the real emptiness of the place,
the dark face of the night-world looking up
at the lit-up stage, and on the stage
in a stop before you leap, before he launched
into the darkness of the pit,
as he clasped his hands,
with still that same lurking, absent
and teasing smile,
the way he came forward
with that infuriating smile that will drive you mad,
you'd imagine he was flirting with death or something,
and daring you, to the death of you,
with that outrageous smirk.
Actually this dannyboy kaybird, this young jinx,
as he sighs and turns about and takes us in,
this Charley chap
is a wit from other days
and pastimes, from a cockney bar,
a corker, a bummer from the bright pages
of the legendary bards,
a thing of shreds,
ready with one of his songs
from his wealth and his stealth
and his devious vaudeville glance,
while he warms up to a dance,
to get a little circulation
into those frozen bones,
to rattle his shoulders
and shake in his pants.
And out comes an easy roar,
a big voice, a loving voice,
for he knows you well, old timer,
and I bet you he'll get you
with a side-kick from the knee,
with a grace note and
a catch in your throat
and a laugh and a half.
4. A Darkie At Heart
I had to come out,
and I came out, dark all over.
I was an inkspot, you know,
an india inca, one of that famous quartet,
the pinka spinks, a spunky little band,
we plucked our way from town to town,
we flew from den to den, and now and then
we played together, and brightened the corners
with our stringy, ringy verses
from Nixeyland, from de land of notten,
stringing along from song to song.
Like Colonel Jerry, or Saint Jerome,
or Jerry Kern or Cohn, who coined a tune or two,
or Canny Day, another nightbird,
or Dinney the Ginney,
all them old timers, my grimy rhymers
with their wings and strings and tin ears
and rhythm in their old wishbones,
their hip bones, their shin bones, their shiny bones
rolling along and gathering mossy song
along the wrongtime,
in de cole, in de dark, cole ground.
Thank you sir, see you around,
with kerchief and fiddle under chin,
we'll be clacking away in time,
with our whistling and chattering,
for that's what we got, nothing else but,
wrack in our marrow.
I had to grow old, and darken
and blacken in the bracken.
And how do you feel as a colorless white,
about them others, them blackbird crows
over there by themselves?
It is bitter out there.
Assa fullish question
and pay no attention.
Thanks for letting me in,
and letting me be one of you,
one of the lesser known unknowns,
a miner pot, black as a kettle,
a bright darky ting.
Pay no attention,
as they fuss about in their purry furry voices,
in their wormy sunny homes, far away.
Way down deep, irking in the shadows,
a long way from home.
How come so quiet? all the doors are shut,
the library is closed, it's after nine,
so how do you spend your evening?
I take a walk, and talk to myself.
And is this goodbye?
goodbye, and never see you again,
idle away and fade away,
and neverever forever, ever again.
It's how you feel about them others
that matters and shows,
if you do feel, if you had any feelings
towards your wards,
and from all harm.
If you could shelter them
under your arm, and love them
as you loves your Tommy catapat,
the softie, the little devil on the rug
with his paws tucked under.
If the economy of the country
let you stay home,
undisturbed by the neighbors, by the bell,
by shortages in the portages
or a rise in the rent,
where the sun shines bright
and you can sing a song
in your simple sorrow,
and if you could be careless,
could afford to be careless
and free and easy with your time,
at leisure, a nice guy, a good guy,
and share and share alike,
a clipper, a cropper, a shareholder bondsman,
and give till it hurts,
to them there darkies and their mammies,
deep dyed villains, and colored men of old
and never fade me.
For I am a darkie at heart,
and it's me, oh lord! just me, just as I am,
thank de lawd, ah still am and am,
and what am, yessir at's me:
a little old jewboy without the glamour of color
of dicky folks, of horny bucks,
who kick up the traces,
fly in a tantrum,
and off on a fling.
I flew all the way South,
and flew back Nawth again,
back where I was born
on the wing of that there plane,
flew from the States back to the States,
where they loves the folks they hates.
OUT AND AROUND
1. A New Man
the life of fire is the death of air,
and the life of water is the death of fire.
With Socrates it is otherwise,
his attention is elsewhere,
in a geometry of soul.
And then Jesus, an outsider,
an Essene, a hairy splitter,
and a nuisance in the synagogue,
a talker, master of the last word,
citing lilies and fishes, not in discourse,
not to observe, but to declare,
to claim and command,
a lordly schizoid and a foreigner,
an insufferable intruder.
Any why all his? because we are in such disorder
with odds and ends like Auden's Greek Reader
on chairs and tables, never know
what you'll stumble over, your sore foot forward,
your tribulations afoot.
They died bearded youths, gray and gone in their prime,
laid low before their time, each with so short a span
to have his say.
Imagine me in a wink transported here,
after dwelling all morning with the ancients.
To escape like that from their toils
to your big green couch
by your window thirteen stories up
over the city and the park
and look down over the harbor
of a great Christian nation
in the atomatic vista, in another time
and out of time.
You can't do it justice ; close your eyes
and drop off into sleep, your heart isn't in it,
and drop the pen from your hand,
as you doze away,
and make your mark in the dark.
2. Another Chance
So little fun, and never done,
never did dooda dedoo, a sunny sinner,
with cheek of tan and a bare foot,
a heel over heads a tail over toes,
a tibby tabby a hepacat,
a walker and a balker,
a huntsman, a stalker.
If I mention immortality,
I won't be difficult,
don't go away, please don't leave me.
Immortality is where you find it,
where there's life, alive and kicking,
one and the same, the gone and the quick,
kin of tomorrow.
Paddy told his chinadoll babygirl
that God saw everything. It made her cry.
Did He have to watch her all the time,
Grannygod in his rocking chair,
who saw in the dark?
Imagine how that eye of God would follow her,
to keep her forever a child bewitched,
always turning to see
if God was looking.
(Homer may nod, but not God.)
Never learn how to close that eye,
never a wink of natural sleep,
and so smug because God saw you.
Can't get along without Old Grandad,
a six year old Kentucky rye
in secret doses
for snakebite, wormwood, dermaphytosis,
old bones and a conscience,
to forgive yourself and bygones
and lay them bones to rest.
And what did the Frenchman in his clarity,
looking at the ever staring clock
clacking his tongue at you
as clear as day, as the face of God himself,
what did the frenchy say, in his cucups,
he said, in translation,
looking up, he said: it is time to be drunk.
Heraclitus scolded the dionysiacs, the dipsomystics,
he was a teetotaller, a tallitarian, a tyrannous intellect
with a clockwise face,
to the right and truth of time
and a dry humor,
and damned the poets and toters and topers,
he was all for a universal dryness and brightness
and they still call him The Obscure.
Imagine him and Mr. D. H. Lawrence,
the dionysian dark boy from the underground,
a shady sun worshiper, face to face
in Mr. Auden's anthology!
And who's to judge them
in an ultimate history,
and reconcile their strange signs
and stumblings in the mother tongue
of archaic man and future man,
and know them through and through
in plain English?
With another chance,
with understanding and ageless art,
how would it be, no fooling?
With a bit of wit in the bargain,
A light touch, and a little fun?
With charity to my old friends,
my poor relations and all-time losers,
who died without a second chance?
In the face of the truth he blew
the bazookas of his calling.
All those years, he hung on,
a crazy business, where all sorts of things
flourish and nourish and cling,
the lot of them!
living off the suckers, the herd on the plain,
tending and shearing the public domain,
eaten up with ambition and hate.
No warning sign to the chute and the skids,
and you're out!
you can get up now and look around,
and don't panic, you'll get by!
but your legs ache, and where are you?
In the middle of a great open square,
or on the speedway in your car,
and your speed is simply terrific,
or on your maiden air trip, six miles up :
Over the ghost plains, the frozen ocean,
the white herds of the past.
A little human dog in a tin wing,
a tissue paper kite
blown away without a string,
without a silver chord
from the belly earth down below
through a yawning age,
to a standstill in the sky.
Awake up here, reborn,
like a new planet,
surprise! a self in the world,
a diamond in the sky,
a snowflake in a scheme
of ice and light.
Oh, naked earth, please let me down
and whirl me to sleep like one of those
who never looked down on such a sea,
when we only dreamed of flight !
back to that humble time,
with Jesus and Heraclitus,
my fellows and friends,
to walk and talk of hearth or fire.
I came up just for the ride,
for a look and a guess
at our lands of the air
and the world's bright end.
Climbed out of sight,
a thing with a sooty wing,
leaning on space,
as if he were a fixed star,
a turning crystal,
incapable of choice or death.
+. Out And Around
He is down, like a pocked meteor,
a cold head lying on its side,
or a slab from the sands.
When called upon to rise,
this Odessian from the Black Sea
reached out, fumbled and muttered,
a difficult, confused old man.
Go bury yourself in a book
and leave him alone.
A mine-dark Yorkman, a black from below,
Gentle Will, himself a talebearer,
a kingly stage hand, wrote on his tome:
"No diggings! Bones and curses!
What have we of the man Moses,
or Leonardo with all his notes in backhand
running back, counter clockwise
the other way? What actually?
What's his story this time?
What drove him from book to book?
It was that way with him, this way and that,
a near thing.
Picked himself up, and found himself,
and lost his dog, his telltale.
Unbooked as a vagrant, off the record,
no sign of the ship he came on,
in what year, from what port,
if over the border and under the rainbow,
or a pot of gull or a black kettle of fish,
or kit and kaboodle,
no pedigree, or warrant for his arrest,
and couldn't hold him.
So they let him go,
an anybody, neither here nor there.
But it didn't matter,
nobody was looking anyway,
he was not wanted.
All his works remaindered. Marked down
from three fifty and even four fifty
to ten and fifteen cents,
from Spring lists and Autumn lists
to a sad reckoning.
In the open air, in the fog, tabled
with the bargain books on their backs,
all turning one color, under one flag:
a price tag on a stick.
Now down to business ; his story,
a job for a judge, a roller of bones,
a born reader, to read all he had borne,
to do him justice j a man like Mr. Faulkner:
How he carried on with persons and doings!
he bore them, and knew them through and through,
raged and forgave, and delivered them.
And our thanks to him for that. You can see
he was herculean and only half mortal.
Begotten, bedevilled, and lived through it,
responsive, answerable to the world.
To this end:
so men would know where they had been,
and how they had come out of it
by his sight and by his sound,
and no denying.
When he reads to you
in his soft treading, tiptoeing monotone,
singing you the everflowing story
then you know it through and through,
you are dreamed out and awake.
He had reached you in time, a friend,
speaking of men, and of you.
So now down to this matter,
you know how it is. Overdue.
The cold look and the silence:
we're waiting for you, Lefty,
your move, pay up.
Couldn't we get an adjournment,
go into hiding,
bail out, and a getaway?
An assignment or consignment,
ship aboard and a stowaway?
Or a fellowship for another year or two
or three for posterity,
a postpony, a postilly,
by backroads, back, back, and maybe
settle for a historical romance
A matter of business,
a business of matter,
of having been a being in a material sense,
and material to the subject matter,
an immortal solo.
A matter of books, inside and out,
and reading and writing,
how it all hangs together,
how a man is understood,
and conversely and perversely,
a doctrine of narrative,
a narrative of doctrine,
a hung jury,
and hangs a tale.
The guy had a way of speaking in quotes,
and smiling his way to the close
of a closed question.
A fancy way of showing off
in a publishing house of ill fame,
a knowing dog with a key in his watchfob,
the style was slightly different in those days
before the wristwatch era.
But I got out and got away, I couldn't stay:
it was my luck to be too dumb to be smart,
and so made my escape
without a hifi beta cap.
How can you talk like that? What's the matter with you?
Back to first grade, and start afresh in the world,
with hope and with good intent!
And what do you see?
A dadalian landscape, bright as day
and silent as the dead.
So what do you know? So what have you heard?
Harry Carey spoke daily over the network
to the whole nation (after midnight).
Joedoe kept his mouth shut.
Averell kept no dairy.
Santayana wrote in a sanctuary.
Mary Martin played in a fairytale.
As for Moe, he was fired.
An all-fired enthusiast
who lost heart and missed a beat,
and is missing and overdue.
Due Returned Due Returned
An eye in the sky. main
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